Monday, 16 November 2009

The wisdom of young unmarried male crowds

In an article for the Boston Review, Evgeny Morozov writes as follows

Wikipedia’s potential lies in harnessing the “wisdom of crowds”; however, those
crowds are only as wise as they are diverse. The individuals who compose the
crowd need to bring different sets of expertise to the project. But in Wales’s
own words, Wikipedians are “80 percent male*, more than 65 percent single, more
than 85 percent without children, around 70 percent under the age of 30.” This
homogeneity, too, may explain the persistence of certain knowledge gaps.

*Other studies suggest over 90% male.

These are words of warning for those who want to use the wikipedia model in their organisation. Sure you will get content, but if you leave it up to the volunteers, your content might reflect the views of the young unmarried childless men, rather than the older seasoned professionals, the female workforce, or the married-with-kids contingent. In many industries, these latter groups would represent at least 80% of the staff, and more like 90% of the knowledge. You leave this group out, and what do you get? The wisdom of the nerds?

Thats why any wiki deployment needs to be accompanied by a framework of accountabilities, processes and governance, to make sure that the reqyured content comes from where it needs to come from, and not just from a subsection of the demographic.

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