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Mob Mentality August 6, 2008

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Books, Odds and Ends.

Of the different books that line my shelf, a good number belonging to the same share of mind deal with nuances of collective human behavior. By this I don’t mean history or economics, though I’ve got my fair share of both (more the latter than the former). Rather, I mean those books that belong to that niche with Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point and Blink, James Surowiecki’s Wisdom of Crowds, and even Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness: equal parts quirky, insightful and compelling.

Thus, with my mind filled with all manner of ideas gleaned from this sort of materials, it was with much amusement that I pored over a CNet article on how fanboys were gaming the IMDB database to catapult The Dark Knight as the site’s top rated movie of all time.

It goes without saying that this isn’t the first time that such a thing has happened (nor will it be the last), but it is an interesting glimpse of how intelligent crowds — or mobs, depending how one looks at it — can sabotage an otherwise working system precisely because they know how. Not that there’s anything particularly novel about that idea per se (didn’t Aristotle dub democracy the corrupted form of “rule by the many”?); it just so happens that there’s some humor to be had in this instance, methinks.

Personally, I submit that there is a silver lining: over time, it’s inevitable that the system will correct itself. People will begin to catch on eventually, and even the most dedicated of fanboys have to tire of manipulating the system at some point. Ultimately, no one can be wise all the time, crowd or no.

[When the “Wisdom of Crowds” Turns on Itself: IMDB Edition (CNet.com)]



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