Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Wisdom of the Crowd

"The wisdom of the crowd is the process of taking into account the collective opinion of a group of individuals rather than a single expert to answer a question"

The entry for Franklin D Roosevelt in Wikipedia "emerged over four years as five hundred authors made about one thousand edits." The term wiki refers to a multi-user collaborative website and in this case academic historians do not necessarily write its content. Wikipedia contains 21 million articles and encourages a large group of people to make numerous edits to every single article. This means it has become perhaps the largest work of online historical writing. Compared to traditional forms of knowledge Wikipedia relies on the process of the 'wisdom of the crowd'; a belief that the knowledge of a group of people can often be of more value than the knowledge of a single person. Wikipedia has has been described in an article by Roy Rosenzweig as being the most important application of the principles of the free and open-source software movement to the world of cultural, rather than software, production.

In a video on youtube, Marcus du Sautoy explains how a group of people can collectively know more than one individual. In 1906 the mathematical research was originally done on a group of people at a village fair, guessing the weight of an ox. Although, no single individual guessed the correct weight, the average of all of their answers was correct. Furthermore, it was also closer than any of the separate estimates made by cattle experts. Indicating, the Wisdom of the Crowd.

In this recent BBC research, Sautoy filled a large jar with jellybeans, 4510 jellybeans to be exact. He then asked 160 people how many jellybeans they thought were in the jar. When asking people to guess the amount, the answers ranged from a mere 400 to a staggering 50,000. In an amazing result. Sautoy finds that collectively, the average guess, to the nearest bean was 4514. Only four jellybeans away from the correct answer.

This shows that although some people overestimated the amount, just as many underestimated the amount and therefore cancel each other out. Provided you ask enough people, just as Wikipedia has millions of editors, the wrong answers will cancel each other out. Leaving information that is just as creditable as a single persons knowledge.

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