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Try as you might to ply me with promises of pizza, beer, or a plate of fresh-made veal parmigiana, I'm never going to watch American Idol. But not even I can avoid the headlines, so I know that -- thanks to some 100 million votes -- Kris Allen toppled Adam Lambert in the latest Idol showdown, in what observers and fans say was a massive upset.
Did we just witness the death of crowdsourcing?
This isn't my idea; Dean Takahashi at VentureBeat posed a similar question. Arguing that Lambert was robbed by Allen's legion of thumb-typing fans, Takahashi wondered whether Idol and similar voting-dependent contests need a more perfect, technology-driven polling system. It seems crowds, especially those with no limits on how many times they can vote, aren't nearly as wise as author and former Fool James Surowiecki has famously contended.
I've got mixed feelings about contradicting Surowiecki. We've taken his research to heart here in creating Motley Fool CAPS, a 130,000-strong investment community that tends its stock ratings eerily right.
For example, five-star performer Quality Systems (Nasdaq: QSII ) was up 47.6% last year, while one-star Palm (Nasdaq: PALM ) lost just more than half its value. David Gardner's CAPS-informed call on Lehman Brothers shortly before its collapse still ranks as a legendary example of the power of community intelligence here in the halls of Fool HQ. On the whole, CAPS' five-star stocks tend to outperform those earning only one star.
Still, I wonder whether Idol demonstrates how crowdsourced results can become skewed if culled in real time. Fans voted more than 100 million times without restriction. Surely the ballot box was stuffed to some degree.
Now apply this scenario to technology's most popular real-time equivalent: Twitter. I've argued that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) need the microblogger and its real-time search engine. But Twitter, like the Idol voting process, is dominated by the loud minority, and a minority can be wrong. What's more, Twitter doesn't restrict users to one account. (I have three.)
In other words, it's possible for a small group screaming, "The world is flat!" to capture Twitter's otherwise-authoritative zeitgeist, at least for a short period.
Crowdsourcing isn't dead, but it isn't perfect yet. Be careful what you lust after, Google. You too, Microsoft and Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) : Twitter may be crowdsourcing at its digital finest right now, but it lacks the safeguards necessary to prevent a similarly-styled Idol moment.
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