Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Crowds Being Manipulated

I didn't want to write about this, but I think that if its brought to attention to most of these online platforms, perhaps something will be done about it. Some of the most influential websites include Digg, Reddit, YouTube, MySpace, and Yahoo News. Like most social networking sites, these sites include areas for superlatives, that is Most Viewed, Most Emailed, Highest Rated, etc. Collactive which Sequoia Capital invested in (via The Alarm Clock) helps you get your story to the top of these sites. You simply submit your story to Collactive and they utilize their network to affect the social network rankings. Digg, of course, is not happy with this, as their tool like most of the other tools above is all about the collective "wisdom of crowds" and not about a single lobbyist manipulating the system. However, as Mashable has pointed out before, its fairly easy to game YouTube to get to the "Most Viewed" list via a couple of browser plug ins and a desire to do so.

As you can see this is a big problem not just for marketers but news in general. To some extent, yes, we need editors to make sure that we get real news on the front page instead of simply the most viewed, otherwise we'd still probably be reading about Anna Nicole. But at the same time, Web 2.0 is about the collective intelligence of the group, and not simply the brute force that Collactive or any other system manipulation provides. And therefore you can see the danger here. The Web is about equality and not about money. However, if tools can be used to receive honorable mentions, high diggs, YouTube views, then the rich will continue to get richer. Great products and services will still be available online but will need to compete against the deep pockets of larger companies whose products might not be as superior. Furthermore, if we know that these rankings are being manipulated then what's the point? It becomes editorial again and the most Digg'd article becomes similar to "Collactive Presents..." and YouTube's Most Viewed becomes "Videos who's owners had nothing better to do but refresh a few hundred thousand times in order to draw traffic to their own websites."

It's a big problem for Web 2.0 just like spam was a big problem (and still is) for Web 1.0, especially for YouTube, where is trying to steal some of their traffic by gaming the system. And based on this, perhaps they will be able to more accurately reflect the collective wisdom of crowds...

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