What's The Greatest Web Software Ever Written?
Wisdom Of Crowds
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WISDOM OF CROWDS
Another form of collaborative knowledge-building that exploits the power of networking and is freely available to a large audience is the wiki. The best-known, most widely available wiki is Wikipedia.
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Launched Jan. 15, 2001, Wikipedia sits atop a MySQL open source database system. Its software must be able to handle URL redirection and scale to millions of users. It uses the content management features contained in an open source wiki building system, MediaWiki, written in PHP by Lee Daniel Crocker and customized for Wikipedia. It's the 37th most popular site on the Web, according to Alexa, with 27,000 contributors in 2005 (the last count available).
Wikipedia is dogged by accountability issues. In 2005, John Siegenthaler, founding editorial director of USA Today, was identified in an entry as a suspect in the assassination of President John Kennedy. He's not; someone had changed the entry as a joke. It was eventually corrected. But if changes can be made anonymously, can a handful of editors be relied on to catch all incorrect and malicious edits?
Wikipedia might solve this problem, I think, by requiring contributors to submit short biographies of themselves and connect them to their share of an entry, and by invoking a collective intelligence that calls on readers to comment on the writer. As author Eric Raymond says of open source software development, where multiple reviewers of code improve its quality, "many eyes make all bugs transparent."
That's an example of what New Yorker staff writer James Surowiecki calls, in his book of the same name, The Wisdom Of Crowds (Doubleday, 2004). The logic goes like this: In certain instances, the responses of crowd members, tallied as a whole, yield the right answer more frequently than individual responses from smart members of the crowd. As a network capable of eliciting responses from millions of participants, the Web would seem particularly suited to the wisdom of crowds.
An automated attempt to implement the wisdom of crowds is Digg. Registered members post links to content they find interesting from other Web sites, then vote on that content by clicking on the "Digg It" button--or not. Popular content goes to the top of the list; unpopular content drops off. To have a story endorsed by the readers of Digg has become a kind of online currency--if it ranks high on Digg's list, it's guaranteed a lot of readers from other sites, which translate to traffic for the originating site.
Kevin Rose launched the news-oriented Digg site on June 26, 2006, and two months later it was the 24th most visited site on the Web; now it's the 92nd. With success have come attempts to exploit its voting process, with services paying registered Digg users to vote for their designated stories. Some users comply, but in general, placement of the paid content on the site has been voted down by other Digg users, demonstrating once again the wisdom of crowds.