Friday, November 21

Gaming Perception: Don't Mind The Masses


It wasn't long after TechCrunch reported that the Google SearchWiki would employ a "Digg-like voting feature to search results (which also changes the ranking) as well as user comments" that there was a need to clarify that the SearchWiki would allow members to customize search results when they are signed in to their Google accounts (like bookmarking) but that would not influence the greater search engine. Good.

“I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.” — Johannes Kepler

But what if it did? There seems to be plenty of people who would celebrate the day despite that the following month would come with a hangover. For all the celebration of groundswell, the masses are sometimes susceptible to becoming entranced by deliberately gamed popularity.

It's also becoming an increasingly contentious concern for companies applying social media to their communication plans. In an effort to be more responsive to customers, some may fall victim to following the advice of the so-called masses while actually following only a few who have the ability to mesmerize a majority.

"The broad masses of a population are more amenable to the appeal of rhetoric than to any other force.” — Adolf Hitler

Just prior to Apple announcing native applications to the iPhone, Web-based applications and games were all the rage. One of the first html-based multiple-player games, KingdomGame, was an immediate hit. It was fast, fun, and engaging enough that small pockets of forum-based communities began to evolve.

Today, the traffic has tapered off to a fraction of what it once was as the developer began infusing a few beta tester ideas — beta testers who were backed by their perceived popularity among the masses. By listening to them, the average play time has grown from five minutes per session to more than an hour, with the most engaged players signing in three, four, or more times a day. The actual majority, on the other hand, were either driven away by the diatribe of the few or quietly quit as the game became too time-intensive for the average iPhone user. In other words, the buzz did not support the outcome.

The phenomenon is not limited to games of chance and entertainment. Social media elite sometimes knowingly and sometimes unwittingly back the masses without so much as a second thought. For most, it makes sense. For some, they establish a "tribe" of followers who will help push some of the most preposterous ideas in exchange for a little attention from the most popular person they know.

It's not limited to the social media elite either. Many companies, from small startups to the Fortune 500, are running an increased risk of fooling themselves into listening to the echo chambers they create. They toss out ideas to their readership or extended networks, and those "tribes" almost overwhelmingly support the predetermined direction already established by a few within the company or the few who invest enough time in the network or group to hold sway over the rest. It's surprisingly easy to do.

“A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.” — Henry David Thoreau

None of this is meant to discount the validity of social media, but only to remind companies engaging in social media that the pursuit of popularity and the outcomes of popularity will not always meet. Sure, there are valid benefits to social media when it is applied strategically, but diving right in without a plan or becoming too entangled in what the presumed masses might be saying can kill a company just like most hit-or-miss work-by-committee outcomes might produce.

Or, in other words, while the masses might be right sometimes, they can also be very wrong, especially when they are led by a few favored personalities. When you look at history, the masses are usually well-suited to expressing a need. But it still takes individuals who can innovate solutions and balance the needs of the many with the virtues of the few (and I don't mean those few who claim credibility has been redefined to mean the he or she with the biggest tribe).

Or, in other words, if Google ever did flip yet another switch and make voted search results public, which one day it might (because you know it can), we can all expect that the entire infrastructure of content will be gamed from the start, perhaps with one persistent 12-year-old stealing a Shakespeare sonnet to promote a personal haiku or, more seriously, a presidential candidate staffing hundreds to vote down an underfunded opponent. Heh. Don't drink the Kool-Aid.

Digg!

3 comments:

Rich on 11/21/08, 9:52 AM said...

More Words:

I missed it this morning because it was not on Google instructional video, but the comment feature on the SearchWiki is public, which means that the gaming of Google has already begun with little bits of influence.

Good night and good luck.

Rich

Rich on 11/21/08, 3:24 PM said...

Famous Last Words:

""The most satisfying results in all aspects of life (including social media) involve filtering not through the masses, but rather through oneself". -Beachbum, commenting from SpinThicket

Rich on 11/22/08, 5:16 PM said...

More words:

"Your recent upgrade to the new state of the art ATMs which, among other things, can accept check and cash deposits without an envelope has been, shall we say, less than pleasant." — AdRants

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