The Wisdom of Crowds

Categories: Development

Back to the discussion of the site design, I’ll take it from the idea mentioned in a previous posts: let the crowd find out.

At least, we would like to have a small community of students and professors to use this service. Then gathering a group around this site, that is large enough to matter, may prove challenging. But le’ts assume that we’re able to attract them here (we’re subscribed to massive UM campus email lists after all ) would we be able to retain them? make them spent time, battery life and clicks.. using the service so we can do some research?

We’d recall Mark Zuckerberg approach.  Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, was invited in 2007 to the World Economic Forum International Media Council meeting in Davos, Switzerland where world leaders were discussing the future of Iraq, to share his view on how to leverage on creating a community that could help bring peace to the country.

Zuckerberg told a story about his sophomore year at Harvard, while starting his company, he failed to study at all for his Art course; he didn’t even go to class. So days before the final, already in panic, he pulled all the pictures he needed to analyze off the web and put them up on a page online with boxes underneath. He emailed the class and said he’d put up a study guide. Sure enough, in moments, the students filled in their essential knowledge on the art. Zuckerberg got an A. And the professor told him that the grades in the class improved 10 percent over previous years.

It’s a magnificent lesson in everybody winning with cooperation. (Complete story from Jeff Jarvis, available here)

But in essence, his advice goes like this: you can’t create communities, they already exist and they are doing whatever they want, if you are lucky they would let you help them organize themselves.

Maybe we can borrow from him on this one?  Instead of deciding ourself what kind of features the service should have and what would users do with it.. may we instead listen to their desires and observe their patterns so we can accommodate their needs?

Indeed, there may be surprises.. and is hard to predict all the interaction patters and ideas that may appear as a result. But it certainly would have an impact on campus life and more importantly it will be public! Google will index it all and links from this eventual explosion of content would provide more visibility to all the academic and social life in the university.  Student may discuss their satisfaction with this or that other course, which in turn leave professors with valuable feedback to tailor their lectures. It may even touch government policies in the long run. Who knows how far would it go? All in all, instead of working for a mere class project this work could be turned into a useful service to the community.

But back to our goals, as far as building this site is concern what we are basically proposing is to use the wisdom of the crowds, as recenty explained by James Surowiecki in his 2004 book, to aid in the process and gain necessary momentum. Then, indeed, have lots of fun in the process.


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