Crowdwisdom – a filter for information overload

Clay Shirky once said in on of his presentations – “There is no information overload – it is filters failure”

Some people complain that the Internet has created overwhelming volumes of information.  Is there really too much information about objects of interest or is the perception of overwhelming volume actually misstated? Perhaps the issue is not quantity but level of quality. It is a matter of perception and focus; the ability to discriminate signal from background noise.  Both producers and consumers care about what is said about a product or service equates to dollars or pounds or yen because positive statements will usually translate into higher demand.  It is ironic how growing numbers of sophisticated product producers and consumers are tapping into the same information stream that has only recently come out of emerging social networks; a kind of digital crowdwisdom.

Whether consumers are overwhelmed by the amount of product information or just lazy, many consumers apparently prefer the conversation threads shared by digital “friends” in their social network over search engine result pages generated by a product’s keywords and metadata tags. There is a very human tendency to seek out the opinion or advice of a “social herd” of like-minded people with similar values, interests, and needs.  It is more than just a contemporary cynicism of Madison Avenue hype and infomercial verbiage. Following the “virtual herd” may at first sound like a derogatory statement but it is in fact fair and descriptive.  Herding is an adaptive trait that fosters very important social behaviors. Though it can, if carried to an extreme like lemmings jumping off a cliff appear pointless, following a “digital” herd saves time and minimizes personal risk. Whether inexperienced or as mentioned above, overwhelmed by too much information, “attending” to what the other member’s of one’s social circle say, do, or prefer is like a filtering device. Some people feel that the wider their circle and the greater the consensus toward a selection, the less risky their final choice. This filtering is especially cost-efficient. A consumer, after finding a common and comfortable social niche, has to neither spend additional time nor effort to select objects of value or need; they just follow the Word-of-Mouth recommendations of their trusted circle and their satisfaction is guaranteed.

Sophisticated product producers recognize that tapping into these social niches, if they can find them, provide free and truthful evaluations of what is right and wrong with their product line.  Crowdwisdom would appear to reflect unsolicited, and therefore one hopes, unbiased evaluations of many different facets of a product. If postings in some niche social network discuss a product, its reputation, and its brand over some reasonable time frame, a producer could conclude the data is accurate rather than misrepresented, for example, by a competitor’s planted remarks or their own staff trying to “market” company goods. They could conclude it is balanced rather than atypical and biased when, for example, a single irate customer monopolizes bandwidth with redundant rants.  Producers who cast their virtual nets over social networks to catch real-time comments must follow the best practices in statistical sampling and testing of experienced psychologists and trained sociologist. Crowdwisdom is not necessarily wise but it is, when collected carefully, extremely relevant. Especially in this digital age where many people struggle to find the signal in all the noise, it is cost-effective and an adaptive trait that minimizes personal risk. It doesn’t matter whether or not you trust or even like everyone in your social circle, if the group hangs out at a particular water hole, it must be safe to go there to drink.

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