I Before We, Except When Seen?
Many people read the New Yorker for its insight, erudition and wit. This week I read it because I found a copy on the Tube. C'est la vie.
Glad I did, because in it James Surowiecki of Wisdom of Crowds fame wrote a small piece relating I think to the study I mentioned here and backed up some of my doubts.
It turns out that the headlines seized only on part of the study - the wisdom of the crowds was not quite as was reported. Yes, people's ratings of music were influenced by the ratings of other but this herd behaviour was not translated into action. The highest rated songs it turned out were subsequently not always the most frequently downloaded - success on that score was random.
As Surowiecki himself says "The collective intelligence of consumers isn't perfect - it's just better than other forecasting tools" and that is very much dependent on the questions you ask of that wisdom.
Indeed, while Googling to find the link above, I came across Surowiecki's next article in which he points out (with particular reference to fuel-efficient transport) how individual desires often outweigh the same individual's views of what is best for the collective good.
People are influenced by others, they like to belong to a tribe, but they also act in their own self-interest. I and we seem to be interchangeable and what prompts that change has, I think, yet to be determined.