Hi, I'm Dave Mulder. This is my website, where I write about user experience and product design.

Originally Published: February 5, 2010

Crowd-powered awards suck

Crowd-sourcing has been a neat phenomenon of the Web age with significant effects on business models. The best example of crowd-source success is open source software; instead of one company building an application, the hands of a community build the application freely because of shared passions. Beyond that, crowd-source is strongly visible in websites like Wikipedia and Yahoo! Answers.

So why not extend Wikinomic practice to awards? Traditionally, awards are given out by exclusive organizations and these decisions are highly editorialized. Editorializing the vote means that a handful of experts decide the winner. The antithesis of traditional awards is the open award, where anyone can nominate a candidate and anyone can vote for a candidate.

This sounds like a great idea. Crowd-sourced awards are democracy in action! Finally the truly deserving candidates will always be the ones to win an award.

There is, however, a glaring problem here. When you ask a networked society to nominate candidates and vote, the winners will not necessarily be the best; the winners will be those who are well-connected.

Consider the Pepsi Refresh project. Pepsi is giving away millions of dollars in grants. People (anyone) submit an idea, select a funding level, and then the public votes on it. Pepsi Refresh is a very social idea that nails crowd-powered. But while it would be great to think that the winners will be the best ideas, it seems more likely that the winners will be those ideas belonging to people who could best spread their plea for votes.

If not crowd-powered voting, then what?

Peer-based awards always seem to work the best. If you are picking the best movie of the year, ask the people who make movies for a living. If you want to know who the best stock market twitterer is, ask other stock market twitterers.  Peer-based awards are a great compromise between a small, expert panel and the entire population of the Internet.