Sunday, 21 April 2013

Wisdom of crowds?

There’s a theory that if you take into account the collective opinion of a group of individuals rather than a single expert, then the large group’s aggregated answers to questions involving just about anything is typically just as good as, and often better than, the answer given by any individual expert within the group. This is called the wisdom of the crowd.

Of course, so-called experts aren’t necessarily that expert. Most complicated court cases seem to involve expert witnesses disagreeing over the right conclusions to draw from the evidence. Similarly, psychology studies have found, for example, that experienced parole board members are no better at deciding whether a prisoner will offend again than ordinary members of the public. Worryingly, other studies have found similar results with experts being no better using their expertise than members of the public.

So what has this got to do with anything? Well, as you probably have guessed from these blogs, I’ve been doing a lot of work on social media recently with companies and charity groups. We were chatting about how to use LinkedIn, and they wanted to take a look at my profile to see what areas of expertise people thought I had. If you want to play along at home, the URL is At the bottom of the page is the skills and expertise section. The way it works is LinkedIn members can endorse the skills or expertise of others. And, gradually, using the wisdom of crowds, a person’s expertise profile should, pretty much, match up with their real-life skills and expertise – you’d think!

So, I listed my skills – an embarrassing process in itself – and then we compared them to what ‘the crowd’ think are my skills. I thought as I’ve been blogging since 2005, and I blog on the Destination z site each month, and I’ve written blogs that have been published as written by other people, ‘blogger’ ought to be there. I write articles that have been published in numerous publications and Web sites, so ‘writer’ ought to be there. I edited Xephon’s Update journals for 20 years and I’m editorial director for the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook, so ‘editor’ should be there. I’ve been associated with mainframes for thirty years, so ‘mainframes’ should be there. I chair the Virtual IMS user group and Virtual CICS user group – so ‘CICS’ and ‘IMS’ should be there.

I’ve also done coaching work with individuals, and a few years ago qualified as a hypnotherapist. I’ve also passed NLP exams. I see clients for these, so ‘hypnotherapy’ and ‘NLP’ should be there. And, for the past five years, I’ve been designing and building Web sites for people – so ‘Web designer’ should be there. And, of course, with my recent focus on it, ‘social media’ should be right up there.

The actual scores on the doors suggest a slightly different profile: 14 Mainframe, 14 CICS, 12 Hypnotherapy, 9 Technical writing, 9 NLP, and 9 IMS DB/DC. Blogging has only 5 votes; as well as technical writing, I have 6 for writer; 5 for editing; and yet I have no endorsements for social media or Web design!

Now, I know it’s still early days, and there aren’t that many endorsements at all yet, and probably, over time, the endorsements will come to match the work I’m actually doing, but it did seem surprising that it should be so different, with some area of ‘expertise’ so lacking in any endorsements. I just wondered whether other people were finding the same thing.

Or maybe, it’s me. Maybe I have an incorrect idea of what I am good at, and there is wisdom in the crowd!

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