28 May 2008

Crowd vs. Committee

I just found this in an old notebook. Apparently I wrote it a couple years ago. Most of it seems to make more sense to me now.

Wisdom of Crowds Design by Committee
Both: Participants may be biased.
Bias averages out Bias creates “riders”
Not much work Lots of work
No consensus required Seeks consensus. Decisions may be postponed to avoid stirring up trouble.
Minority (“special”) interests can be publicised but are often ignored Minority interests are not ignored
No experts—skepticism (Presumption is that a random individual is not an expert.) All experts—openness
Lossy, mass communication (of arguments, etc.) Tedious explicit communication
Both: No overarching design or uniting vision.
Nobody cares Possibly competing visions
Simple output. Unbounded complexity in output.
Immediate feedback. Long-term, invisible feedback.
Individuals have low individual impact. Individuals are influential.
Neglecting the topic somehow doesn't matter. Neglect causes warts (that is, areas where the design is painfully bad —ed.)
Product needn't be understood (markets) Product is ideas.
Mechanism for approaching a good result exists (market; averaging) Democracy (voting) and consensus are the only such mechanisms.
Interfaces are well-defined before work starts (ballot; prices) Interfaces have to be designed.
Individuals can't introduce bureaucracy Individuals sometimes manage to introduce bureaucracy


detarame said...


"Both: No overarching design or uniting vision."

Does not a committee not have an overarching design or uniting vision as it's raison d'etre?

"(Wisdom of Crowds): Immediate feedback. (Committee) Long-term, invisible feedback."

Confused. The first I think I get what you mean, but isn't feedback an inherent trait in a committee?

Anyway, watching the concept markets recently - especially in regards to the Primaries and elections - I've become an enormous skeptic towards the "wisdom of crowds" hypothesis, and really even more fully believe now that crowds are essentially reactive.

jto said...

By themselves, “wisdom of crowds” and “design by committee” aren't hypotheses. They're just stories. Or stereotypes. There are plenty other stories like this: “market for lemons”, “madness of crowds”, “race to the bottom”, “tragedy of the commons”.

In “design by committee” you end up with no overarching design or uniting design vision, even if the group had a uniting purpose. It doesn't always happen that way. Sometimes the clouds part and you get Cascading Style Sheets. I don't understand it.

To undermine my point a little here, the committees I've observed (in companies and standards organizations) have all been terrible about getting feedback.