Should you trust the crowd?

Some surprising facts about the wisdom of the crowd

Continuing our discussion about the reliability UGC (user generated content) or social media monitoring for emergency management decisions. I suggested in an earlier post that the perceived unreliability of UGC was enough for many EM professionals to discard the notion of using this information as part of response management intelligence. 

The UGCAlliance is making an effort to formalize a process for verifying UGC. While this is aimed at improving media reporting based on UGC, it is equally applicable (if not more so) to EM. Media outlets--particularly CNN and FOX have been caught several times recently reporting tweets or other UGC that have not been verified and turn out to be damaging rumors. I applaud the effort to create an organized verification process. But I also agree with the position of the BBC leader in UGC that verifying content is more art than science. That makes a lot of engineering-type emergency managers understandably squeamish.

There is a far more fundamental reason why UGC should be adopted into the intelligence process of EM. It's called the Wisdom of the Crowd. No, it's not an oxymoron. Dr. John Orlando does an outstanding job of explaining the surprising wisdom of an aggregation of voices. His examples are not from social media, but experiments like guessing the weight of animals and finding lost submarines. This is well worth the read.

An additional benefit of this article is the discussion on VOSTs. If you are not familiar with yet another alphabet-soup jargon, it stands for Virtual Operation Support Team. It is harnessing the skills, abilities and frontline knowledge of disparate volunteers into your response team. I am very certain this is well on its way to becoming common practice.

I suspect that if you are one of those resistant to these ideas, you don't use wikipedia much. Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia and remarkable source of knowledge available to everyone, is built on the wisdom of the crowd. It is because of that wisdom that wikipedia has a reputation for accuracy and trustworthiness.