Nicholas Carr: The Editor beats the Wisdom of the Crowd

Nicholas “IT Doesn’t Matter” Carr talks about human editors versus algorithms in his post, “The editor and the crowd“:
“As the comparison of Memeorandum and Slashdot shows, the software-mediated crowd is a poor replacement for a living, breathing, thinking editor. But there are other things that the crowd is quite good at. The crowd tends, for instance, to be much better than any of its members at predicting an uncertain future result that is influenced by many variables. That’s why stock market indexes beat individual money managers over the long run. It’s easy to understand why. First, there are limits to the ability of any single individual to understand the complexities in how a large number of variables change and influence one another over time. Second, every individual’s thinking is subject to idiosyncracies and biases – some conscious, some not. The crowd aggregates all individuals’ knowledge about variables while balancing out their personal biases and idiosyncracies. It’s not the “wisdom” of crowds that makes crowds useful, in other words; it’s their fundamental mindlessness. What crowds are good for is producing average results that are not subject to the biases and other quirks of human minds.”
“That’s also why search engines work pretty well with algorithms (until, at least, they begin to be gamed by individuals using their minds): They produce the result that best suits what the average searcher is looking for. You don’t want generally used search engines to reflect individual biases. Indeed, one of their main jobs is to filter out those biases – and revert to the average.”
But, says Carr:
“But that’s also why algorithms don’t work very well as editors. With an editor, you don’t want mindlessness; you want mindfulness. A good editor combines an understanding of what the audience wants with a healthy respect for the idiosyncracies of his own mind and the minds of others. A good editor doesn’t aim to provide a bland “average result”; he wants to wander widely around the average, at times even to strike out in the opposite direction altogether. The mindless crowd filters out personality along with idiosyncracy and bias. The mindful editor is all about personality.”
I couldn’t agree with Carr more. And that’s why one of my latest projects is 100% human powered; powered by personality. I could have used software and algorithms to do the heavy lifting, but decided in favor of people. Thanks Nick!

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