Monday, October 23, 2006

The stacking of the opinionistas

Remember that cute little sign you'd see now and then? The one that goes something like this:

  • Rule #1 - The boss is always right
  • Rule #2 - If the boss is wrong, refer to Rule #1
Now of course we in business should always substitute "boss" with "consumer". Ok, sure, I buy that, consumers are always right. But umm, which consumer? In the days of brick and mortar, it was the one in your store throwing a fit. That guy was right but mostly because that guy was most vocal. Today, the consumer voice is coming at every possible angle. Can they all be right?

I love the Web 2.0 movement but there's one thing that keeps bothering me. Consumer generated content and rankings have democratized opinions. Everyone has an opinion and now every single one of those opinions count (usually literally counted as a vote). The problem with that is not everyone could possibly be right. You have no way to tell if someone has arbitarily come to a conclusion or has made one after doing tons of homework. Opinions are generated from information and we all know that information today is both voluminous and unwieldly. Chances are, we're not really using the best information available to make our decisions nor do we care if anyone else does. Expertise is dead.

What I think we're doing is what I'm going to call stacking behavior. The Web 2.0 movement has provided all of us with bags of tokens (our votes). As you traverse the online world of reviews, rankings and content, you will eventually come across something you like. As a sign of your approval or disapproval, you drop your token onto the pile.

Pretty soon though, something interesting starts to happen. Your opinion becomes influenced by how others voted rather than the available facts. I'm guessing it's a twist on groupthink. You notice large piles and think, "well, that stack is large enough, it doesn't need my token." On the other hand, you'll notice tiny piles and think, "well, that poor little stack needs another token." (I'm not exactly sure what makes something go from tiny stack to huge, probably a combination of timing and momentum, like that moment where popcorn starts to really go nuts in the microwave.) In the end, I'm pretty sure we're all just working towards making average stacks. Also, let's not forget that one dude that runs between the piles tossing handfuls of tokens over his head and screaming, "Look at me, I'm a valuable contributor!"

My gut feeling is that the democratization of opinions and our stacking behavior is going to ruin Web 2.0. We're going to have a backlash and snap back to recognize the value of expertise and quality of analysis. Well, at least, that's my hypothesis. My goal is to try to find some hard data to see if there's any evidence to support any of this. If you come across anything, let me know.

1 comment:

Tien Pham said...

Oh the Web 2.0 movement becoming more and more of a hot topic. One of the best gamer examples of this has to be (and it hasn't been taken over yet). Ran by the community from the top down mostly, very organized, and very community friendly. Apparently EA started tapping in to this resource of serious RTS gamers recently for their LotR games and upcoming C&C3.

On the whole, I think Web 2.0 will fade away in most of the popular sites and services. Some have already fallen such as (this was a long while ago too) and many more are lined up to be brought up by companies with profits coming first instead of the community.