Digg and the wisdom of the crowds

Gene has an interesting post on “how much wisdom there is in Digg“. He was referring to a recent icident where an O’Reilly author was accused of stealing the Digg CSS. This set set me thinking the social structure created by Digg. If you look at it through the lens of “Wisdom of Crowds“, it does not fulfill the criteria laid out by James Suroweicki. The four conditions are
(1) diversity of opinion
(2) independence of members from one another
(3) decentralization and

(4) a good method for aggregating opinions

Digg fails the “independence of members from one another” criteria. People digg stories and comment with reference to what other members have already done. So, people are highly influenced by what others are doing. Overall, in cases such as this (when emotions are running high – this story was about stealing from Digg itself!), the social structure is more like a mob.

This is not the first time I have noticed this mob like behavior. Both comments and trackbacks at times afford mob like behavior. In contrast, tagging as a social system does not seem to support this mob-like behavior (partly because tags are independent input by individuals. Also, tags are more of a conceptual statement about an item rather than a positive / negative opinion. Sure a positive or negative opinion is often buried within tags, but its more subtle than a “digg this” or “rate this”.)

For those interested in this topic: there has been a lot of research into the psychology of crowds starting with the classic work of the French psychologist Le Bon. Search for “psychology of crowds”. (this Stanford research project (flash link) seems interesting).