Ad Astra photos
Elizabeth Bear in top form in 2008

Mobsourcing: a term I've been needing

I just learned an interesting new word: mobsourcing.  It is a word I've been needing for a variety of  situations I've observed on the Internet. The Wikipedia-style crowd-source ideal should in principle bring consensus close and closer to the truth. My observation with Internet mob behavior, the large number of participants can make the group impervious to factual corrections.  

From the Web 2.0 Blog, by Ken Fischer, 12/26/08: Mobsourcing vs Crowdsourcing: Can conformity occasionally make for a more reliable crowd?

In my last post I started to examine the claim of the cluetrain manifesto that a more networked audience is more intelligent or at least a better detector than an individual. The #Mumbai victim list twitter distribution illustrated 4 ways which a network can apply truth filters and 2 ways in which the network affects might work against detecting falsehoods over the short term.

One recent tweet from Deb Lavoy questioned whether crowdsourcing will always generate good ideas, because after all a mob is also a crowd. Mobs are famous for poor and emotionally driven decisions and actions rather than intelligence and innovation. So how do we prevent crowdsourcing from becoming mobsourcing? Do connections between audience members, which a mob seems to have, mean better decision making? . . .

. . . and Ken Anderberg, January 2008, Is it a crowd or a mob?

Most of us have seen the Western movie, where the crowd lathers up at the saloon, grabs weapons and rope, and marches, mob-like, down to the sheriff's office, ready to string up some alleged villain down at the livery. The villain wants the sheriff to let him out so he can defend himself. The sheriff grabs the 12-gauge and any handy deputies, and meets the mob outside the front door of the jail. . . .

These mobs always have one thing in common--a few people, always in the front, are the instigators, the ringleaders. Everyone else is mostly just jazzed up, liquored up maybe, and just going along with the crowd. That is, with the mob.

The sheriff, using his knowledge of how mobs work, points his shotgun and his pistol at the mob leaders in the front of the pack, and says, "You know, Amos, there are way too many of you, but I guarantee that the first two shots out of ol' Betsy here will be aimed directly at you, and I'll get a bunch more of you with my Colt."

Right about then, the mob leaders figure they will be dead before anyone is hung, and they won't get to enjoy the fun. So they decide the effort is not worth the price and go home, grumbling as they retreat. The mob also disperses.

So, too, is it with crowdsourcing. A few people lead the pack, provide most of the input, while most of the rest of the crowd is little more than onlookers, perhaps somewhat lathered up about the topic, but really without much expertise to add anything meaningful to the discussion.

Is that really crowdsourcing, or is it more akin to mobsourcing?

Creating politically motivated mobs to spread a harmful meme about a candidate was, for example, a very common tactic during recent elections.