Tag Archives: NPR

The Problem With Crowd Sourcing is Crowds

Crowd sourcing sounds good to me, but then I remember, we humans are a difficult bunch. We like complaining more than praising. We post nasty, negative, and aggressively personal comments on blogs. We’re easily swayed by a few bad apples. Anonymity makes us really mean. Revenge makes us happy.

And we behave particularly badly in crowds. Don’t we?

For example, think of reviews. Remember when we were able to depend on popular reviews to figure out which books to read, movies to see, and products to buy? I say “not so much,” at least not any more. Coming off of a tough marathon of business travel, no more than a week at home since late March, I’m disappointed with how poorly review sites are working for me. I’ve been using Trip Advisor to help me book hotels and, with the gracious help of Trip Advisor reviews, ended up in a particularly unpleasant hotel with particularly pleasant reviews. Somebody’s been gaming the system.

Take a good look at reviews these days. On Yelp, TripAdvisor, Amazon.com, Google, or whatever. Weed out the ones that are obvious plants by self-interested people, like the owners or friends of owners. Weed out the disgruntled people pushing grudges, like one I saw recently who hated the restaurant that kicked her out because she was drunk (and she says so in her review). What’s left?

And then there’s the problem of nasty or meaningless comments on blog posts. Another problem of crowds. Not on this blog, of course – and thank you all for that – but I just read Website Editors Strive to Rein in Nasty Comments from NPR’s All Things Considered. Should comments be moderated? Does it cut into the interest level or authenticity of a site? Here’s a quote:

Clifford Nass, a communications professor at Stanford University, says when you have an environment where thousands of people are vying for attention, people know intuitively that it’s the nasty stuff that jumps out.

“Ironically and tragically, if you want people to respond to what you say, say something outrageously negative,” says Nass.

The Web, while it’s obviously a powerful possibility for crowd sourcing, brings out the worst in us. This is also from that NPR story:

It’s easy to lose your temper on the Internet. Anyone who reads — or writes — comments on blogs and news sites knows that the conversation can quickly stray from civil discourse to scathing personal attacks. For years, many websites just let users go at it, and free speech reigned. But now editors are rethinking just how open their sites should be.

The story goes on to suggest some ways to moderate comments and manage the conversation better. While controversy can build traffic and content, scathing attacks are just ugly; not really interesting to anybody, but quite common. And when it does turn personal, kind of creepy too. Anonymity seems to increase the nastiness level, for obvious reasons; but signing and adding an email address doesn’t make much difference.

And then there’s this new rash of annoyingly automated blog comments. If you moderate a blog you know what I mean. Lately there’s been a flood of inane generic comments placed by Web robots for some obscure SEO gains. Things like “nice post, food for thought, I’ve bookmarked this” that can be applied indiscriminately to thousands of posts.

Question: is this dark side of crowds part of the reason that celebrity gossip is so overvalued in news and media these days? We’d rather read silly celebrity stories than darkly disturbing stories of political chaos and environmental disasters. Or so it seems.

Because we humans are difficult. We like to be negative. And we often behave badly in a crowd.

(Image: by Philippe Leroyer via Flickr CC)

Is Gen Y the Most Pessimistic Generation Ever?

Global warming, the environment, energy crises, worldwide wars of religion, crumbling political systems, economic turmoil: today’s generation of the recently-grown up are the first generation ever to grow up expecting the world to get worse, not better, in the future.

My generation, by comparison, was arrogant: we really believed we could, and would, change the world for the better. That’s what the 1960s were about. We got into college, opposed the war, protested, demanded change. We were going to tear down the establishment and create a new world of greater love, greater justice, fairness for all.

Consider this comment, made by historian Tony Judt in a recent interview with Terry Gross on NPR Fresh Air:

I’m encountering the first generation of young people in colleges and schools who really do not believe in the future, who don’t think not just that things will get evidently and permanently better but who feel that something has gone very badly wrong that they can’t quite put their finger on, but that is going to spoil the world that they’re growing up into.

Whether it’s climate change or political cynicism or overreaction or lack of reaction, to external challenges, whether it’s terrorism or poverty, the sense that it’s all got out of control, that they, the politicians and so on, media people, are neither doing anything nor telling us the truth. That sense seems to have pervaded the younger generation in ways that were not true in my experience.

Maybe the last time that might have been true was in the 1920s, where you had the combination of shock and anger from World War I, the beginnings of economic depression and the terrifying realization that there might very well be a World War II. I don’t think we’re on the edge of World War III or IV. But I do think that we are on the edge of a terrifying world.

And then, this response:

GROSS: And you say back in the era of self-assured, radical dogma, young people were far from uncertain. The characteristic tone of the ’60s was that of overweening confidence. We knew just how to fix the world. It was this note of unmerited arrogance that partly accounts for the reactionary backlash that followed.

Do you feel that you shared in that sense of confidence and arrogance?

Mr. JUDT: Oh, absolutely.

This exchange, related to Judt’s last book, is just a detail in a much larger interview titled, sadly, A Historian’s Long View on Living with Lou Gehrig’s disease. The noise of the respirator accompanies the entire 39-minute interview.