Lie 1: Social software causes groupthink and herd behaviour
I’ve never quite worked out why people think this is the case; for a long time I just assumed this was a misconception held by those who’d never really experienced or used social software in earnest.
Then I read Kathy Sierra’s post on One of Us is Smarter than All of Us, and suddenly everything fell into place. [By the way, I really like her Past Favourites section, it makes it really easy and convenient to find a prior post.
People who believe that social software foments groupthink are similar to people who believe that Wisdom-Of-Crowds is about herd instinct. Here’s a quote from Kathy’s post:
- Where I had it wrong is that his book’s premise (wisdom of crowds) comes with qualifiers.
The wisdom of crowds comes not from the consensus decision of the group, but from the aggregation of the ideas/thoughts/decisions of each individual in the group.
- At its simplest form, it means that if you take a bunch of people and ask them (as individuals) to answer a question, the average of each of those individual answers will likely be better than if the group works together to come up with a single answer.
It’s really like scaling up Belbin-like team dynamics on a gigantic scale. The “team” represented by a given blog community is actually a collection of incredibly diverse people, with common interests rather than common views. Much of what I learn from comments on my blog is from the extensions, the qualifiers, the provisos, even the complete disagreements. This is not groupthink, it’s anything but.
Humanity is a collection of individuals. A very long tail. 19th century marketing really loved pigeonholing people, and pigeonholed people may well have acted like Gadarene swine. [Talking about Gadarene swine. Many years ago, when I commuted in to London on the A4, getting ready for another day on the treadmill, I couldn’t help but smile when I saw the Good Morning Lemmings sgraffito on the motorway stanchions. Made me remember to get off the treadmill before I got to work. Incidentally, if you want to see what I saw, here’s a link to a Hilary Paynter sketch on the topic]
Lie 2: Social software is full of inaccuracies and downright lies
You only have to read things like the Pew Internet report to figure out what percentage of blogs and wikis and IM are to do with reportage. Most of this space is taken up by observation, comment and opinion, not “reported facts”. I guess you have to be pretty arrogant before you can dismiss someone’s opinion is wrong; you can disagree with the opinion or the comment, but that’s about all.
Even for the small part of this space that is about reportage, it’s hard to sustain the “inaccuracies and lies” position. There’s always a variant of Linus’s Law in operation: Given enough eyeballs, all information bugs are trivial. If anything, social software is more honest than MSM when it comes to factual errors. They get corrected. And the original error-prone version disappears.
With MSM on the other hand, the lie is printed and continues to be an archived lie. And while you may get a retraction or correction, it tends to appear on page 32 sandwiched between dog shampoo ads and undertaker recruitment campaigns.
Lie 3: Social software destroys privacy
There are many reasons why I believe that privacy, as the West knows it, is dead. Some of it is to do with the web. Some of it is to do with social software, I guess. Some of it is probably even due to cyber-crime. But I think we’re missing the point. People share information willingly. Now some of them may not realise quite how much information they are sharing, and how this information may be used against them, but that cannot be laid at the door of social software.
People who don’t want to share openly still use social software. There are passworded wikis, closed-loop IM systems, even things like Orkut Crush. Openness is primarily a choice and not a condition.