Jun 20, 2010

In Defense of Experts

The other day, I read an article from a well-known tech blogger who was positively gushing over the notion that he’d soon be able to use location-based services to narrow down travel reviewers to those who’d say, been to Sonoma six times, and who, he felt, would be the best source of reviews on Sonoma restaurants and wineries.

And it made sense for a minute or two until I thought of all those people who’ve been to New York City a dozen or more times who’l tell you that Carmines is the best Italian restaurant in town and how it’s so convenient to have a Friday’s right there in Times Square.

Which is why the wisdom of experts is sometimes preferable to the wisdom of crowds.

More often than not, I want to hear from people who know more than I do, who present well thought out reasons for their opinions and who’ve managed to put out reviews I agree with more often than not.

The larger my social graph is, the less likely I am to trust it. I know what kind of food my very close friends like and I’m pretty up on their tastes in books, music and travel. But that’s maybe a half dozen people. The hundreds of others I know via Twitter and Facebook may have some smart things to say about marketing, but I have zero knowledge if their taste in film matches mine. Which is why I’m more prone to trust a reviewer I know than a few hundred of my closest Twitter followers.

To be fair, there is one place that crowdsourced reviewing has proved enormously useful: range. Before sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor (or even Zagat, which was pre-internet) there was slim likelihood you’d find any sort of reviews or info about local diners or pizza places or out of the way hotels and resorts. In that way, the wisdom of crowds has been a valuable tool and helps us to feel more in control of our choices: even if we’re not 100% sure we trust the review, at least we’ve got something to go on rather than absolute silence.

But that’s about as far as it goes for me: if all I wanted to read were NY Times Best Sellers, if all I wanted to see at the movies were that week’s top-grossing pictures then I’d be happy relying on crowds. But I want book reviewers who feel their job is to ferret out the rare gems. Restaurant reviewers who aren’t fooled by the trend-of-the-month. And movie reviewers who aren’t put off by subtitles.

I’m not getting that from my social graph. Except maybe as a retweet.

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