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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Collective Wisdom-Crowd Sourcing

Crowd sourcing is a new supply of information.  It seems that this new supply is shifting and changing the creation and consumption of information.  No longer are the go-to experts the only ones with knowledge, now knowledge and wisdom can be gleaned, loosely, from large groups of like-minded individuals contributing to same site.

This shift will have huge implications for how information is created and used on the internet.  In extreme circumstances, the accumulated wisdom of an online community could eventually differ from that of an individual expert and if the group is large enough, their collective ‘voice’ could overwhelm the individual expert.  Would this make their collective wisdom more credible than the expert’s?  Would the rest of society be so accepting?  I know, let’s have our community vote on it.  Just kidding.

I truly think that a shift away from the wisdom of experts is not necessarily a bad thing.  Depending on the subject matter, using the wisdom of crowds could be hugely beneficial to individuals needing guidance on all types of issue.  This is only true if there is a large or significant contribution from the community being queued for their collective wisdom.  As seen in The Wisdom of Community, by Derek Powazek, the jar of pennies example show’s that if you ask enough people the group’s median guessed numbers will be close to the number of pennies in the jar.  Powazek also touches on the fact that large groups of people should not be asked to solve complex problems, they should be given simple tasks to accomplish.

There are also implicit problems with using this type of information, since it is subject to many problems if not implemented correctly.  This could be said of many different types information gathering attempts, however cultivating and harvesting this type of information requires a tight grip on the procedures to be used.  Without making the process simple to the contributors or by not having controls on how users make those contributions, the collective wisdom is subject to a small group skewing the results and or the information being useless because the task was not simple enough for the group.  These types of issues are covered by Kristina Grifantini in her article Can You Trust Crowd Wisdom?.

The opportunities and problems of crowd sourcing are amplified considerably, since libraries depend on a large degree of control in providing their online catalogs and curating their collections.  By allowing the collective wisdom of their patrons to augment their collection libraries open up a greater degree of interaction with their users and share the responsibility of curating their collection.  However, this would raise the issue of how this would affect how library materials are searched and found.  Crowd sourcing could be more effectively used for understanding user services needs or helping with library policy issues.  Where is the best place to build additional library space or the best place to put new public workstations?  Let’s ask our patrons.

The wisdom of the crowd has many uses and definitely has a place on the Web.  The gathering of this information is implicitly collaborative and has the potential to make seemingly daunting tasks more manageable.  Its power and substance are beginning to be realized and it has great potential.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think libraries will ever give up complete control to the concept of crowd sourcing. The tagging and rating systems implemented in library catalogs are great *additional* features that enable their users to provide input. But from what I noticed in the examples of library catalogs, these features were relegated to the bottom of the page.

    I agree with you that crowd sourcing could be effective in collection development and understanding user needs.