crowd

We often bemoan the presence of trolls and fools in the Comments sections of online articles, and in many instances our complaints are well-founded. However, the merit of the Comments section remains undervalued, IMHO.

Media blurbs seem increasingly limited in their scope of value, restricted by brand relationships (read “sponsor” pressure), or other considerations. Whether limitations and omissions are the result of strategic relationship imperatives, journalistic myopia, or a publication’s limited knowledge of the sector about which it is prognosticating, the result is sometimes of VERY limited worth, such that a reader will often wonder why they just wasted 10 minutes reading said piece. This only serves to damage the brand value of a publication. Print publications have historically been able to get away with this practice, as they did not have to worry unduly about corrections or the humiliation of their readers knowing far more than they did. This leads one to a place of opportunity, rather than threat.

A media publication can only know as much as its writer and researchers are able to dredge up in the time window allowed before posting of article. This scenario can never compete with the knowledge of the crowd. Take, for example, this well-intentioned, well-written, but woefully inadequate article by WIRED​ on offline navigation apps. Market leaders such as HERE+, Maps Me, and City Mapper are conspicuously absent, and one wonders what the article is trying to accomplish. A growing stream of reader comments points out the omissions, putting the article itself in increasingly unfavorable light. Where the opportunity lies is in the fact that had the author of said article framed the piece as an exploratory introduction to the topic (in this case “offline navigation apps and their value to travelers worldwide”), and not a “know-it-all” guide, we would have been privy to the power of media as an aggregator of crowd thought leadership.

Imagine if a tech news site were to intelligently frame the landscape of wearable computing with an article exploring the history thereof, leading in to an overview of a few of the most visible brands in the space (fitbit, Microsoft band, Apple watch, et al), and concluding with a crystal clear invitation to readers to continue the exploration by contributing their opinions on the relative merits of these and other heretofore unmentioned offerings, past, present and future. The merit of the particular piece would now wrap itself around not only the originally published single-voice report, but the myriad opinions proffered by readers. If the publication integrated Quora​-like upvote mechanisms, the most useful reader contributions would rise to the forefront, enriching the coverage, and invigorating further discussion. The result would be a work far more comprehensive, and thereby useful, than anything the lone author could ever have accomplished, and their inclusive and collaborative style would only serve to elevate their and the publication’s brand value.