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Derek Powazek: the wisdom of communities

Author of “Design for Community, The Art of Connecting Real People in Virtual Places”, Powazek is an alumnus of HotWired, Blogger and Technorati and he wondered why despite the wisdom of the crowds (Google “James Surowiecki”), community generated content tends to be somewhat *low brow* results…

The four elements of crowd wisdom are;

  • Diversity
  • Independence
  • Decentralisation
  • Aggregation

How does that work online? Examples given include hotornot (!) and threadless where the crowd opinions are aggregated into a decision – in theory that decision is the “wisest” one by Surowiecki’s theory.

Give people small simple tasks and give those tasks to a large diverse group. Design for selfishness and aggregate the results.

For anyone creating a participatory community online, creating a game is a result of that action (refer Jane McGonigal’s talk earlier on). But communities can be gamed – witness the “Karma Whores” on slashdot who left comments merely to increase the chances of themselves “rising to the top”.

Does popularity have to rule? Powazek says no – popularity is only one type of algorithm there are many more that can be utilised (a la reddit) – human editors still matter in this process and can be blended with collective intelligence to appropriately influence results.

An entertaining insight into trolls and how to stop them – ignore them and they’ll go away! Allow community managers to place the “cone of silence” over a member – so that they can only see their own comments, and not those of others. Enable timeouts so that in the event of a community member getting sideways in their comments, the manager can, metaphorically, say “dude, you need a timeout!”

How can we design community settings that make people feel in-control? And would our communities become more wise as a result?

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