Collective Intelligence and the Blogosphere Essay

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Collective Intelligence and Plural Voices

One Internet platform which largely represents a hybrid of collective intelligence and mass amateurization is the blogosphere which makes predictions on the yearly results of the Academy Awards. Just as Jenkins makes the point that Survivor is a show which just begs the viewer to speculate about what happened, the Oscar Ceremony is an award show that is big enough and important enough that it begs for the prediction of the ultimate outcomes. With these film buffs, there is a similar gathering of information and historical patterns which do create a knowledge community, comparable to the Survivor fans. These movie buffs are also similar to the Survivor fans in that making these predictions has become a game or tournament of accuracy; unlike Survivor, the results of the Oscars aren't determined months in advance. However, the results are tallied before the envelopes are open onstage, creating enough incentive and desire for film experts and movie buffs to want to make the most accurate predictions possible.

These film predictions also represent what Shirky refers to as the "mass amateurization." The ability of the blogosphere to be seen and heard in such a widespread manner regarding this award show, and so consistently before the actual show even airs, demonstrates the power of the predicative blogosphere and the weight that certain people's opinions can have: for instance, an actor can win an Oscar onstage, but be denied that he deserves it unanimously within the blogosphere. In some cases, this popular opinion matters and in other cases it does not. This paper will examine how the predictions of the Oscar blogosphere are able to gain power and momentum, in many (but not all) cases through the numbers of readers subscribed. Readership is power and it can overcome mass amateurization.

Mass amateurization is a term that is not without validity. Shirky raises certain valid points about mass amateurization: "It's tempting to regard the bloggers writing about Trent Lott or the people taking pictures of the Indian Ocean Tsunami as a new crop of journalists… The problem, however, is that mass professionalism is an oxymoron, since a professional class implies a specialized function, minimum tests for competence, and minority of members. None of those conditions exist with political weblogs, photo-sharing, or a host of other self-publishing tools… Mass amateurization is a result of the radical spread of expressive capabilities, and the most obvious precedent is the one that gave birth to the modern world: the spread of the printing press five centuries ago" (Shirky 66). Shirky is indeed correct in his assessment, that the availability of people to express themselves on the Internet with such grand immediacy and with such marked possibility for widespread consumption has indeed attracted a lot of people who lack the education, skill and experience to do such things -- these are people who merely have opinions and wish to express them. The ability to have an opinion combined with the ability to express an opinion combined with the availability of a space to sound one's opinion does not make one qualified as an expert on the subject matter that one is expressing an opinion about.

Thus, in the blogosphere, anyone who likes film and has an opinion is someone who can post this opinion online. However, the number of one's readership is precisely what gives one the ability to overcome the massive amount of amateurs out there doing the same thing. One could argue that an extensive readership is what gives one importance: the blog and all articles posted within the blog simply become "more important" with an audience of millions. Even if critics dismiss the writing and the opinions expressed within the blog as being inconsequential and un-important, the blog becomes important via the readers who consume it.

However, the term mass amateurization does discount the validity of collective intelligence on the Internet and among the blogosphere. One of the reasons why many of these Oscar/film blogs have such remarkable followings is because they are written by truly knowledgeable people who have spent time not only studying film, but the trends in distributing awards that the Academy has demonstrated in the past few decades. The blogosphere is a place where collective intelligence is allowed to flourish: "…the expert paradigm creates an 'exterior' and 'interior'; there are some people who know things and others who don't. A collective intelligence, on the other hand, assumes that each person has something to contribute, even if they will only be called upon on an ad hoc basis" (Jenkins, 53). This is one of the appeals of the Oscar blogosphere. So much of Hollywood and the Oscars orbit around exclusivity, with the nominations and even the industry itself revolving around a sense of us vs. them. Only the smallest percentage of Hollywood's elite get invited to the Oscars, and even of that small percentage, there are still lots of people who are left out. Hollywood is the equivalent of America's monarchy or royalty and the Oscars represent an elite ceremony which is built on excluding many others for it. In a sense, the blogosphere which makes predictions about the winners of the Oscars represents a way to use collective intelligence as a means of leveling the playing field.

The fact that the results of the Oscars are kept a secret for so long, is one facet of the elite quality of the event: very few people know the outcome of the winners until the entire nation finds out together. To undermine this secretive process is a way of using collective intelligence to remove the imbalance of the elite vs. everyone else. Within this blogosphere: "The people work together, put their heads together, in the absence of one person with inside info… There are little tips which accumulate often during the week before the show. The group of spoilers often have to figure out which ones are credible and which ones are wishful thinking or outright false. .. The expert paradigm… uses rules about how you access and process information, rules that are established through traditional disciplines" (Jenkins, 53). Thus, this excerpt also points to the success of the blogosphere in that there's a greater amount of freedom in the way that information is gathered and assessed. Because the blogosphere is not beholden to the same rules which dominate those of the expert paradigm, there's more liberty at how to collect intelligence and make predictions.

Part of the success of the blogosphere when it comes to predicting the Oscar outcomes is built on the fact that there is an absence of strict regulations and rules that actual, official journalists have to prescribe to. Instead of rules, there are guidelines and standards which more people subscribe to out of a sense of suitability. "More generally, order may remain when people see themselves as part of a social system, a group of people -- more than utter strangers but less than friends -- with some overlap in outlook and goals. Whatever counts as a satisfying explanation, we see that sometimes that the absence of laws has not resulted in the absence of order" (Zittrain, 129). This is a good description of how the blogosphere works: while it's not shackled by the rules of professional journalism, there are some basic rules which persist and determine the bloggers who are successful vs. those who are not. One standard that persists within the blogosphere is that people have to support the arguments they make with historical facts and evidence. For instance, many of the major bloggers online predicted that Jared Leto would indeed win the Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club as best supporting actor. Bloggers cited numerous facts that pointed to his imminent Oscar: the weight loss he had undergone, the risk taking of playing a transgendered role, and the fact that the part was a portrayal of a group which is generally under-represented in Hollywood. With history being used as a guide, there was a clear predictive consensus, that all of those elements combined would deliver the Oscar to Leto. The blogosphere turned out to be correct.

Another facet of the success of the blogosphere is that the definitive bloggers actually are really intelligent people. The film/Oscar bloggers who have major followings and major levels of readership, are the ones who write well and who have intelligent, novel things to say about a field and subject which is generally well-covered, and even over-covered. This innate intelligence allows certain bloggers to be viewed as authorities on all things film and film-related, and their readership supports them. The readership and the massive number of subscribers involved, further validates their opinions and the writing that they do. It's hard to ignore and dismiss a writer who has over one million people reading his or her words. In 2004, when blogs were still an early manifestation of online opinion websites, "Blogs, the argument went, had come to set the agenda for other media 'in a way not unlike talk radio'……[continue]

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