Ask my neighbour...idea #28/100...
I've just started reading "The Wisdom of Crowds" by James Surowiecki. Its central thesis is that for certain questions, it's better to ask lots of people, even "average" people, rather than a few, or single, experts.
This started my thinking about crowd-forming using mobiles. Much on this general topic is already discussed in Howard Rheingold's excellent Smart Mobs. Surowiecki is suggesting that certain types of decision making can be improved, perhaps vastly, through consulting a crowd. There a lots of interesting synergies with the themes discussed in Chapter 7 of Smart Mobs.
What then of a feature to do just that through our mobiles? Imagine, if you will, a "consult" option in the mobile device menu. The user is faced with a particular decision. Let's take a purchasing decision in a shop.
Through the consult button, a "connection" (e.g. conference call) can be formed with a "crowd" of people. These can be complete strangers, if the configuration allows. The user presents their problem to the crowd and asks for a solution. The question would determine the mode of discussion.
If the question can be framed in a multiple choice form, then a polling application is possible. The poll is instantly sent to the crowd and answers are gathered. According to Surowiecki, for the right sort of problem, we should be able to rely on the answer.
Moreover, if we really did want to "swarm" (congregate) on the issue, then location-techniques could ensure that the crowd were in the vicinity of the user. All kinds of interesting possibilities are likely to emerge for proximity or neighbourhood "instant" networking.
As I see it, if the crowd is smart, then the first step is a re-orientation of our thinking towards how we make decisions. But, thereafter, we need to think about social rituals and habits. For example, if I'm in a place where I could physically ask a number of people their opinion, am I likely to do this with complete strangers? Probably not. However, does the anonymous connection of mobile make this easier? It is worth pondering. Certainly if I could poll people, then I might.
Interestingly, a recent study (I need to find the link for you) suggested that we are all stressed because we have to think too much about decisions. Too many options....too much stress. Will the crowd makes our lives less stressful?
There's a whole set of "usability" issues to think about here, but the theme is fascinating.
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