Infotopia…We’re Not There Yet


Cass Sunstein’s book, Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge (Oxford University Press, 2006) presents an insightful view of the promises and pitfalls of tapping the collective wisdom of crowds. It’s a view that’s informed by the author’s background as an attorney. After all, the judicial process taps the aggregated understanding of a jury to determine guilt or innocence. Jury deliberations are an interesting point of departure to understanding how collective wisdom works or does not work.

Sunstein observes that “deliberation often fails to aggregate information even as it increases agreement and confidence among group members.” He goes on to examine different methods for obtaining access to many minds and the four big problems faced by each method. Those problems are:

– Amplifying the errors of a group

– Failing to elicit tacit information

– Cascade effects

– Group polarization

These are the problems that plague anyone that tries to tap into a group’s collective knowledge. Sunstein examines the effect of these problems on prediction markets, wikis, open source software and blogs.

His observations on the blogosphere are familiar to anyone that’s studied the issue. He rightly points out that the blogopshere offers “a stunningly diverse range of claims, perspectives, rants, insights, lies, facts, falsehood, sense and nonsense.” There is a tendency among bloggers and readers of blogs to remain in an “information cocoon.” Many bloggers read only those blogs that share their points of view. One remedy he suggests is for bloggers to offer links to blogs that are quite different than their own. This encourages the spread of differing opinions (op-ed), yet it rarely happens. Echo chambers promote information cocoons.

If nothing else, blogs allow an unprecedented degree of self expression and connection with others. Once you are aware of the traps (echo chambers and information cocoons) and the problems (amplification of errors, tacit information, bad cascades and group polarization) inherent in this world of many to many communication, steps can be taken to promote the “healthy aggregation of information.” The lesson learned is to keep an open mind and seek out those that hold opinions that differ from yours. That’s one of the keys to making sense of the blogopshere and it should guide your efforts to “seeking out widely dispersed information and aggregating these into uncannily productive wholes.”




This is the second year in a row that I’ve attended Tony Perkin’s AlwaysOn Hollywood conference. Surprisingly, there are fewer familiar faces this year and the company lineup doesn’t seem as innovative as last year’s. I don’t think that’s because I’m jaded. I think it’s just a passing phase as innovation is copied, variations are made and positioning is differentiated in a growing marketplace. Perhaps next year we’ll see more acquisitions and rollups. After all, there are plenty of established players (Google, Yahoo, AOL) that continue to fill out their services with smart acquisitions.

Two companies that stood out after the first full conference day are Kyte.TV and BlogTalkRadio. enables anyone with a cell phone that records video to upload their video to any website and share it with anyone that subscribes to your channel. The service integrates chat with your video stream, opening the door to real time collaboration with your viewers. It’s for the masses. The New York Times mentioned Kyte earlier this week, but strangely the reader’s comments were fairly negative. I guess the average age of the Times reader is over 40.


BlogTalkRadio is another connection point between cell phones and the Internet. Their service allows anyone to embed a live phone connection with a website or blog. Up to six callers can call in and talk among themselves. The call can be heard live by the callers and when it is concluded, it can be automatically archived as a podcast. This melding of media is just the beginning. As bandwidth increases so will the opportunity for mixing rich media types in novel ways. This is just the beginning of an important trend towards real time collaborative media online.