On “The Wisdom of Community”

Powazek, D. (2010). “The Wisdom of Community.” A List Apart. Retrieved on 23 June 2010:


In The Wisdom of Community Derek Powazek argues for the online extension of James Surowiecki’s Wisdom of Crowds theory. By referring to Surowiecki, Powazek points, that “crowds, presented with the right challenge and the right interface, can be wise”. This means, that a group of people – by balancing each-other – answers any well proposed question much better, than a single person, even a professional. Powazek points, that some online services are using similar methods to WOC to rank information according to their relevance and quality. Most importantly the user’s opinions are influencing the results of the Web search engines.

According to Powazek to use the WOC concept in decision making, question answering or information ranking, certain conditions are required. The problems needs to “be broken down to its simplest components”. The number of the participants and the quality of the result are proportional. The motivation of the participants is a key factor, they need to work for their own interest. Showing the previous results is problematic, because “[t]he highly rated items get even more highly rated,m the low rated items fall off the radar”. The author argues, that the voting should run for a set period of time, the questions needs to be mixed up, the results should be shared only after the voting and use an algorithm to analyse the results. He also states, that the mixture of explicit and implicit feedback methods gives the most relevant answers. Powazek also points, that those participants, whose answers and votes have been recognized as good, should have more impact on the result.

Most importantly the WOC theory changes the role of professionals. The concept shows, that professionals are not able to make right decisions, their role is to give the right questions, which can be answered in a collaborative way. For obvious reasons this fact is hardly acceptable for the professional scene. Powazek’s article shows well the ongoing changes in the evaluation of online information. He only briefly discusses the functioning of online ranking systems and shows a few of their positive affects and malfunctions. These online systems’—using different collaborative decision making and ranking methods—methodology is more complex, because of different economical and technical reasons they are far from the ideal WOC model. Practically Powazek describes the usage of data mining technologies, as a way of decision making. Data mining is a pioneer field of mathematics and computer science, which makes us able to use such huge databases, as the Internet.

Powazek’s article is problematic at the point, where he argues to recognize differently the ‘bad’ and ‘good’ answers. This statement goes against the concept. As individuals, the professionals make the best decision at their field. A great of group of people makes even better decision. If the system would recognize the ‘best’ answers more, than we will end up at the existing, professional driven, top down model. As the WOC theory shows, there are ways to make better decisions without the centralization of professionals.

The article refers to the online services’ interface, as an elemental point to successfully use the WOC method. Professionals need to observe the problem and break it down to simple questions. These simple questions are answerable for a very wide society, what makes possible to use collaborative decision making methods instead the professional driven ones. The collaboratively created databases, such as the Internet require data mining algorithms On the other hand the usage of the WOC system needs to be easy for everybody to get as diverse and numerous answers, as possible. The interface is also elemental to motivate users to participate.