Wisdom of the herd

An interesting trip last night to a screening of Us Now, a new documentary about how the wisdom of crowds is being applied in the real world. Lots of familiar stories – Zoba, Couchsurfing, Ebbsfleet United – and some new ones on me – a community deciding how to allocate grant money.

“Us Now tells the stories of online networks that are challenging the existing notion of hierarchy.  For the first time, it brings together the fore-most thinkers in the field of participative governance to describe the future of government.”

It’s enjoyable stuff. Clay Shirky and Don Tapscott doing their shtick, and a wide-eyed tourist arriving in scary ol’ London and meeting his couchsurfing host. Will he or won’t he be a predatory axe-murdering maniac?

But it felt a bit relentlessly upside. I had my hand up to ask a question but didn’t get picked, so here goes.

Remember Mr. Splashypants?  

Mr. Splashypants is a humpback whale. Greenpeace was launching  its “Great Whale Trail Expedition” and decided to ask the internet to name a whale. And inevitably, I suppose, the contest got gamed. Somebody suggested “Mr. Splashypants” as a name, and then somebody else broke the voting machinery and then Boing Boing, Digg, Reddit etc got hold of the story and all of us joined in the joke and “Mr. Splashypants” won the vote by a country mile.

So my worry about online networks challenging the existing notion of hierarchies is that online networks don’t promote responsibility. It’s all so damn disinhibiting. People are ruder, sillier, more destructive online than in person. Which doesn’t really fit with a new model of government.

It’s a pity. I’d really like this to be a brave new world and human nature not to be such a bitch all of a sudden, but I think it probably still is. 

Good film, though.

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One Response to “Wisdom of the herd”

  1. Martin Ross Says:

    Just thought of another depressing example. Remember http://just.curio.us? A really lovely online experiment from Jonathan Harris, where strangers answered strangers’ questions. You had to answer a question in order to be able to ask one, but that was all that was required. And at first it was delightful – whimsical, funny, even deep sometimes. Now, a couple of years later, it’s a horrorshow. Trolls being homophobic and nasty to each other.

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