None Of Us Is As Dumb As All Of Us

While there can be wisdom in groups, there can also betremendous ignorance in groups. To blatantly rip off despair,inc., none of us is as dumb as all of us.

Never has this been clearer than the past coupleof months — a time that makes one question the real wisdom ofthe masses, and whether many accolades/ diggs/ arrow-ups/ mods isreally a good sign of worthy content, or whether it’s just anexpression of the ignorance of crowds, or a real-worlddemonstration of low-value groupthink.

When Goldfish Escape

During this period we’ve heard – from virtuallyevery “newspropagation” site, all bombarding thesame messages – that Google was releasing an amazing new online office suite. Turned out that itwas really just the optional bundling of the Java runtime with theGoogle toolbar (because bundling is always in the consumers’best interest…).

We heard that Microsoft was buying Opera, and then thatGoogle was buying Opera, both of which wereuntrue (and both of which are hardto rationalize with reality given both company’s commitment tocompetitive alternate platforms). Both originated at very smallsites, and were supposedly based upon “insider” tips and info(let’s ignore the thorny legal issues about making such a claimregarding the acquisitions of public companies). They werequickly picked up and relayed by countless other sites.

Many of these completely nonsensical stories gained a sortof “truth through repeated assertion”: The more sites picked up thesame nonsensical story, the more people used their “votes” to giveit more visibility, the more real some completely baselessmeanderings on someone’s blog or commentary site became. Thesestories took on a life of their own, and if you debated thevalidity of them, you’d get a laundry list of links to sites allrepeating the same fabrication.

This same sequence of events played out among the Riya-fanboyz,many of whom blanketed the meme sites and blog ranks withunsupported claims that Google was buying Riya. In that case, if youfollowed the “source” back to its origin you would find twobloggers, each pointing to the other as the source of the rumor.Given that the vast majority of bloggers get their “news” from other blogs, this ishardly surprizing.

This is such a predictable event now that you can guaranteelots of hits, and good frontpage action on the meme sites, bysimply sticking to the tried and true and claiming that Google isdoing X. What is X Whatever you want it to be.Whether it’s running movie theaters, releasing an ultra-low margin PC against any common sense, amazinglybuilding an entire operating system against allprecedent, or continuing the Google Office Suite rumor (which includes suchhilarious pearls as “GMail’s WYSIWYG is 90% of MicrosoftWord“) — Savvy bloggers and small-market “news” sitesknow that it’s a sure thing to just imagine up whatever ridiculousconcoction one can invent involving Google, and it’ll quicklydisseminate across the web, earning tens of thousands of links(glorious pagerank), reputation, and traffic that one can redirectto one’s own personal projects and businesses.

What starts as baseless, or barely-educated, speculation quicklyturns into reality as it propagates.

I’ve picked just a few of the most known nonsensical storiesthat took the community sites (both the editorially controlled likeSlashdot, and the true community sites like Digg) by storm over thepast months, but there have been countless others where someoneposts unsupported anecdotes or personal attacks and it quickly jumps tothe front page, eagerly given credibility by, in all truthfulness,the clueless: You don’t have to know what they’re talking about, oreven bother reading the supporting “evidence”, to help promote asite on these community sites. On some of them nefarious groupshave been busy script-creating accounts and voting up their ownstories, not even waiting around for the ignorance of anonymous,detached groups to do its thing.

There really isn’t a point in all of this, but to say thatreaders need to consider most of the group think sites more akin tothe World Weekly News than the New York Times. While there willbe occasional gems, there is a tremendous amount of noise aswell.