The Land :: www.TheLandOnline.com

Nuts & Bolts

August 14, 2013

Why you shouldn't trust Internet comments

The "wisdom of crowds" has become a mantra of the Internet age. Need to choose a new vacuum cleaner? Check out the reviews on Amazon. Is that restaurant any good? See what Yelp has to say. But a new study suggests that such online scores don't always reveal the best choice. A massive controlled experiment of Web users finds that such ratings are highly susceptible to irrational "herd behavior" — and that the herd can be manipulated.

Sometimes the crowd really is wiser than you. The classic examples are guessing the weight of a bull or the number of gumballs in a jar. Your guess is probably going to be far from the mark, whereas the average of many people's choices is remarkably close to the true number.

But what happens when the goal is to judge something less tangible, such as the quality or worth of a product? According to one theory, the wisdom of the crowd still holds — measuring the aggregate of people's opinions produces a stable, reliable value. Skeptics, however, argue that people's opinions are easily swayed by those of others. So nudging a crowd early on by presenting contrary opinions — for example, exposing them to some very good or very bad attitudes — will steer the crowd in a different direction. To test which hypothesis is true, you would need to manipulate huge numbers of people, exposing them to false information and determining how it affects their opinions.

A team led by Sinan Aral, a network scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, did exactly that. Aral has been secretly working with a popular website that aggregates news stories. (He says it is similar to Reddit, but he's keeping the identity confidential because he has another experiment under way with the same site and doesn't want it to be "tainted" by media exposure.) The website allows users to make comments about news stories and vote each other's comments up or down. The vote tallies are visible as a number next to each comment, and the position of the comments is chronological. (Stories on the site get an average of about 10 comments and about three votes per comment.) It's a follow-up to his experiment using people's ratings of movies to measure how much individual people influence each other online (answer: a lot). This time, he wanted to know how much the crowd influences the individual, and whether it can be controlled from outside.

Text Only
Nuts & Bolts
  • Expo takes precautions to prevent spread of virus
    An outbreak of a potentially deadly equine virus will mean some empty stalls at the upcoming Minnesota Horse Expo.

    April 14, 2014

  • CNHI papers honored for spot news, enterprise journalism

    Newspapers in Norman, Okla., Anderson, Ind., and Andover, Mass., are among those honored in the Best of CNHI 2013.

    April 3, 2014 1 Story

  • touch.jpg Divorce is on the rise, and it's the baby boomers' fault

    A new paper from demographers at the University of Minnesota found that the age-standardized divorce rate has actually risen by an astonishing 40 percent since 1980.

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • Newborn.JPG Census: U.S. has fewest births since 1998

    The U.S. recorded the most deaths in its history and the fewest births since 1998, resulting in the lowest population gain from natural causes in 35 years, an analysis of 2013 Census Bureau estimates released Thursday shows.

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • dog-sunglasses.jpg Do animals have a sense of humor?

    Right now, in a high-security research lab at Northwestern University's Falk Center for Molecular Therapeutics, scientists are tickling rats. Their goal? To develop a pharmaceutical-grade happiness pill. But their efforts might also produce some of the best evidence yet that humor isn't something experienced exclusively by human beings.

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • VIDEO: X-Ray released of tree trimmer with chainsaw embedded in neck

    Not only did the tree trimmer who got a chainsaw caught in his neck survive, he climbed down the tree by himself after the accident.

     

     

    April 3, 2014

  • Screen shot 2014-02-20 at 4.23.54 PM.png Get ready for spring with these 3 apps for gardening

    Even if it's still cold out, it's almost time to start planning a spring garden. Whether you have a full backyard garden you eat from all summer or just a few tomatoes and herbs on the porch, these apps will have you make the most of your garden

    February 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Data breach hits Target's profits, but that's only the tip of the iceberg

    In its first financial release since the December breach that enabled the theft of millions of customers' payment data, Target said profits fell 46 percent and that the breach had already cost the retailer $17 million. The final tally will be bigger, the company said, but it's unclear by how much.

    February 28, 2014

  • Dwindling Midwest high school grads spur college hunt

    A waning number of high school graduates from the Midwest is sparking a college hunt for freshman applicants, with the decline being felt as far away as Harvard and Emory universities.

    February 28, 2014

  • Six reasons childhood obesity has fallen so much

    A major new paper appearing in Wednesday's edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that childhood obesity - age 2 to 5 - has fallen from 13.9 percent in 2003-04 to 8.4 percent in 2011-12.

    February 28, 2014

Featured Ads
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
The Land's Twitter Feed