Aggregate displays and collective intelligence

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(Photo by Azlii Jamil)

In his posting “The Danger of Aggregate Displays in Social Software“, Joshua Porter writes about the influence that aggregate displays like “most popular” or “most viewed” can have on what users consider as good or popular. Aggregate displays are also an important factor concerning the creation and exploitation of what is ususally denoted as “collective intelligence“.

A I’ve presented on some of my slides of my talk “Sharing Digital Resources and Metadata for Open and Flexible Knowledge Management Systems” about ALOE at I-KNOW, it’s not sufficient “just” to attract enough users - left alone that this is difficult enough. In his brillant book “The Wisdom of Crowds“, James Surowiecki has identified four key factors that characterize a “wise crowd”:

  1. Diversity of opinion (each person should have some private information)
  2. Independence (people’s opinions are not determined by the opinions of those around them)
  3. Decentralization (people are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge)
  4. Aggregation (some mechanism exists for turning private judgements into a collective decision)

What does this mean for an application working based on “collective intelligence”? I think it should

  • encourage users to participate (e.g., by using reward mechanisms)
  • ease the flow of information (e.g., offering users the possibility to import and export data such as their profile or their tags)
  • aggregate information (e.g., offering access to all comments and tags concerning a resource in an easy way and showing average ratings)
  • offer access to the application’s data and functionalities in the user’s usual contexts and applications (i.e., providing a proper API to allow other applications to use the data and functionalities, providing widgets, a drop box on the desktop, …)

But as aggregate displays have an influence on user’s opinions, does this mean that we should avoid to show them to users that will contribute data? Or can there also be a positive impact to a certain extent? Any feedback is very much appreciated!

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