Arts and Letters Daily, which I read weekly, has a link to an essay by Jaron Lanier where he takes everything from Wikipedia to American Idol to task to its slavish adherence to a "collective mind". It is an interesting critique of many of the core ideas prevalent in online communities but its also five-thousand words long. I've read the whole thing, along with a bunch of the response so that you dont have to.
The basic premise of the article is that anonymous, de-contextualized information gathering algorithms reduced the value of the information they aggregate and the richness of thought/conversation online. He uses the ever popular online "whipping-boy", Wikipedia, as an example of the collective mind gone mad. In part because of its many inaccuracies, but also because of its growing importnace, Wikipedia is the symbol of all thats wrong with online collectives. In Lanier's view, a kabal of editors succumbing to group think to determine the shape of Wikipedia, allow the "wrong" information accepted by the group to override the "right" information asserted by an individual.
Jaron also tackles the issues of meta sites, think reddit and popurls, which he claims are driven largely by "programmed intelligence". He states that these sites (many of which are very popular with the "in" crowd online) remove the human context and posits the information as if it emerged from the web itself (via an "infallible collective"). Ultimately, his argument boils down to lessening the strength of the collective and reducing the tendency towards averaging (which he equates with meta sites).
I have an issue or two with his essay but my thoughts pale in comparison to the withering responses shot back at Lanier from A-listers, Clay Shirky, Cory Dotcrow, Ether Dyson, Dan Gilmore and a slew of others. Their responses follow three basic themes:
1) Use Wikipedia before you comment on it. All the responses impolitely point out that Mr Laniers essay has some pretty bold and inaccurate statements about how Wikipedia actually works.
2) Generalizations dont work. The oversimplification of collective bad: individual good doesnt really work especially when talking about the online space where collective action is
3) You mother dresses you funny. Wearing plaid pants and a matching plaid jacket might have been cute as an infant but sporting it as a 46 year old neo-republican is just poor form.
Ok, so that last one isnt actually in any of the responses but I have been thinking about adding it to Jaron's Wikipedia entry.