Mob wisdom is a cornerstone of web 2.0 applications and for the most part it provides good insight and direction on many topics. Popular sites like Digg, Fark, and Google Trends all provide a window into that behavior, but they also can influence it on a grand scale. Spurred on by the blitz debut success of Batman in The Dark Knight, the mob mentality flung it to a glamorous position: top movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB).
Before The Dark Knight, Godfather enjoyed the number one slot for many years, and it seems that a group of users may be voting down the Godfather to make room for their new favorite film. That speaks to a risk we all assume by relying on mob wisdom.
When people think independently before meshing their opinions with others, generally they incorporate some sort of reasoning process into their opinions. But, when they see a wave of people drifting in a particular direction, there is a tendency to meld with the crowd. That’s how a relative few on Digg are able to influence thousands, and it’s how a flurry of blog activity follows popular search terms that rise up within Google Trends.
Highlighting some of the specific activity on the IMDB, /Film writes
The percentage of users who gave Godfather a 1 out of 10 (the lowest rating possible) grew from 6.1% to 6.4%, just enough to push Shawshank ahead, while the percentage of participating users who loved the film, giving it a 10 out of 10, remained the same (57%). It’s also worth noting that while any IMDb user can vote and effect a movie’s overall rating, only regular IMDb users can influence the film’s top 250 placement.
Digg provides messages in a couple of spots on its site warnings not to anger the mob. This is from the company’s FAQ, it’s a summary of what constitutes spamming.
Submission spamming is different because it may be quality content but the submitter is “spamming” every story from their blog/site. While we welcome users to submit their own content, overdoing it often incites the users to mark the user as a spammer, the site as a spam site, and otherwise decent content as blogspam. We recommend considering this before you engage in this activity. Remember, if domains are consistently buried and reported as spam, the site may be banned.
All of this just demonstrates that leaders will continue to influence large quantities of people by having an opinion and expressing it in an engaging manner. The rules online aren’t so different, they’re just more transparent.