Ignorance of Crowds


In the latest Strategy+Business magazine, Nick Carr discusses the ignorance of crowds and the limits of open source innovation. Peer production, and in particular the sub-genre known as user generated content, has been the latest hammer that has made every business problem look like a nail. Carr shows that he is one of the few people who understand the role that context and coordination play in the realm of peer production.

First, peer production works best with routine or narrowly defined tasks that can be pursued simultaneously by a big crowd of people. It is not well suited to a job that requires a lot of coordination among the participants. If members of a large, informal group had to coordinate their efforts closely, their work would quickly bog down in complexity. The crowd's size and diversity would turn from a strength to a weakness, and the speed advantage would be lost. Second, because it requires so many "eyeballs," open source works best when the labor is donated or partially subsidized. If Linus Torvalds had had to compensate all his "eyeballs," he would have gone broke long ago.

Carr brings up the flaws in Wikipedia again (something he enjoys harping on). I'm not convinced that Wikipedia is successful because of the peer production aspects. I think it's popularity stems from being the first free encyclopedia on the web (at least, it was the first one I ever found). Anyway, it's nice to see this buzz finally starting to die down, and for people to accept the role of peer production as any other tool – useful in certain situations.