Herding the Mob

Today we harness the masses for everything from choosing the next pop star on American Idol to perfecting open source software and assembling Wikipedia articles. But perhaps the most widespread and vital uses for group input online are in scoring systems. In addition to eBay feedback, these are the customer ratings that Amazon.com and Yahoo Shopping post with product reviews. They’re the feedback scores that Netflix tallies to help subscribers decide which movies to order. And they’re the up-or-down votes that sites like Digg and Reddit (part of the Wired Media Group, which also includes WIRED magazine) rely on to determine which stories to feed Web surfers.

But as rating systems have become more popular — and, as Resnick shows, valuable — there has been what some would say is a predictable response: the emergence of scammers, spammers, and thieves bent on manipulating the mob. Call it crowdhacking.


Then there’s Spike the Vote, a sort of Digg-based pyramid scheme in which members earn one point every time they digg an endorsed story. Once members have enough points, they can submit stories of their own to be dugg by the network.

Recently, Spike the Vote’s owner, known only as Spike, sold the site on eBay. A Digg user named Jim Messenger bought the site and gave it to Digg, which promptly shut it down. But Messenger wasn’t just being altruistic. He bought Spike the Vote because he knew Digg’s followers would put a story about what he had done on Digg’s front page. This, he figured, would attract customers to his search engine optimization business. —Annalee NewitzHerding the Mob  (Wired)

During the dot-com craze, it was rare to find articles that critiqued technological promises from a knowledgeable standpoint. Or maybe I, like so many others, was just more interested by the positive articles.

MySpace and Facebook offer young people a laboratory to develop the online networking skills that are so important to 21C life. But as this article shows, each new development can be broken by scammers who are intent on manipulating the system for their own gain.