Beware the instant online anger of the HobNob mob | Nick Cohen | Comment is free | The Observer

A mob fighting a good cause is still a mob. To fight back, you need to remember that although the internet age is hugely expanding the number of complaints, the old rules still apply. Whether you are the owner of a tiny blog or the editor of a national newspaper, if someone points out an incorrect fact, you correct it; if someone challenges an argument, you argue back; and if someone says that you must think what they think, you ignore them.

Source: here

Technology Review: Can You Trust Crowd Wisdom?

Niki Kittur, an assistant professor at CMU who studies user collaboration on Wikipedia and was not involved with Kostakos's work, says that providing more information about voting patterns to users could also be helpful. Kittur suggests that sites could create ways to easily summarize and represent other users' contributions to reveal any obvious biases. "There are both intentional and unintentional sources of bias," says Kittur. "In the end, what we really need [are] tools and transparency.

Source: here

Philip Pullman, Identity and Crowds

“I feel with some passion that what we truly are is private, and almost infinitely complex, and ambiguous, and both external and internaland double- or triple- or multiply natured, and largely mysterious, even to ourselves; and furthermore that what we are is only part of us, because identity, unlike “identity” must include what we do. And I think that to find oneself and every aspect of this complexity reduced in the public mind to one property that apparently subsumes all the rest (“gay”, “black”, “Muslim”, whatever) is to be the victim of a piece of extraordinary intellectual vulgarity. Literally vulgar: from vulgus. It’s crowd-thought”

– Source: Philip Pullman in the Guardian

Wasted Sweetness

Back from a great two weeks of reading, relaxing, exploring, mint tea and fearless driving in Morocco. A week ago I was a couple of miles outside Merzouga, in the desert, under a full moon, and staying in a Berber tent among the 300 foot dunes. Away from it all, it’s easy to draw a veil of schmaltzy naffness over it – “Oh the stars”, “It stripped me down to my bare essentials” etc. But it really was awesome, in the fullest sense of the word.

Two things the experience made sense of, and vividly so, were:

“Holiness in the desert is silence, in the crowd it is conversation”

(or something not too far off)

And probably my favourite line of verse, and top of my “Now That’s What I Call Poetry” compilation

“Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.”

Of course, I’m glossing over the fact that the donkey had piles or something hee-hawed from about 2am till dawn, and the fact that the camels seemed to have shat everywhere, but testament to the whole thing is that when you’re there you really don’t mind. You’re a million miles away from everything.

Photos with Flash

A New York paper is running a story on Thao Nguyen’s transformation ” from quiet Web developer to feisty crimefighter”. [thanks Matt for the pointer]

Allegedly (and while I’ve every sympathy with her if it did happen, it looks like it may well have, but I still think it’s an “allegedly”), in response to the man below unzipping himself and pulling it out on a mid-afternoon uptown R train, she pulled out her phone and took a picture of him.


Not long after it was evidence submitted to the police, and posted on Flickr.

Tama Leaver has written a corker of a post about the ramifications of this.

“while I commend Thao Nguyen for her quick thinking and wish her every luck in prosecuting the man who appears strongly to have abused her, I simply want to add a few words of warning to the digital ether and ask you to think about the ramifications of digital images becoming a form of citizen “justice”. We need to be wary in such cases, or our new digital resources may indeed open a seductive but ultimately unjust hi-tech pandora’s box.”

Spot on.

On a broader level, it does make you wonder about individual freedoms and just how pleasant bottom-up life is. Stowe Boyd coined the term swarmth for all that wonderful collective decision making ability that networked people are beginning to be able to show. But I would hate it if we forgot that these swarms have stings too.

Innocence & The Wisdom of Crowds

A couple of months ago I was called up for jury service. I have to say I was excited – human interest, curiosity at how decisions were made behind the scenes, and a little bit of “see how groups work” enthusiasm. I also have to say that, when I was “behind the scenes”, I surprised myself by doing something I cannot remember doing since I was seventeen (barring at loved ones). I shouted long and hard someone.

The case was a short one, thankfully not rape or murder, but still had the possibility of a five year sentence. We sat and listened to the witnesses, barristers and judge for 4 days.

Continue reading Innocence & The Wisdom of Crowds

The Wisdom of Crowds

Was forwarded this book review by my mate Pete McCrum – and am now off to get it. The book is called “The Wisdom of Crowds: How the Many Are Smarter Than the Few” and it’s written by a New Yorker called James Surowiecki. Some of the choice snippets are:

“In 1906, English scientist Francis Galton visited a country livestock fair and stumbled upon an intriguing contest.

An ox was about to be slaughtered, and the villagers in attendance were invited to guess the animal’s weight after being slaughtered and dressed. Nearly 800 gave it a go, and not surprisingly, no one hit the exact mark: 1,198 pounds. Astonishingly, however, the average of those 800 guesses came close – very close indeed.

It was 1,197 pounds.”

It looks to be much more than a series of interesting anecdotes though …

the mathematics work so long as Surowiecki’s three key criteria – independence, diversity and decentralization – are satisfied. “If you ask a large enough group,” he says, “to make a prediction or estimate a probability,” the errors they make cancel each other out. “Subtract the error, and you’re left with the information.” In this fashion, the TV studio audience of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” guessed the right answer to questions 91 percent of the time, torching the “experts,” who guessed the right answer only 65 percent of the time

Have to admit, I was a little surprised that Pete was reading the Christian Science Monitor 🙂