Great White, Crowds, and Quora

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Back in 2003, Great White performed a concert at The Station Nightclub in Rhode Island. Do you remember what happened? The manager set off some fireworks and the building caught on fire. Between the fast moving flames and the panic in the building, more than 100 people were killed.

I think about that incident every time I go on Quora because it’s a reminder that crowdsourcing — as a foundational concept to accomplish anything productive in life — is a myth.

There is no collective wisdom in the crowd. There is wisdom in being the person who bucks the crowd.

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What is Quora? The site describes itself as a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it. Basically, its a social network of sorts that looks like a trendy version of Yahoo Answers combined with less accurate information than Wikipedia. And the site encourages you to engage, participate, and inform the crowd — all while it tracks your movements, watches what you watch, and collects your data.

As if it all benefits you, the user.

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I’m a big believer in the individual voice of reason. History shows us time & time again that crowds of any kind — crowds of people, crowds of dogs, or crowds of data — can be dangerous. If you take the Great White example above, you can see how a herd-like mentality caused a scene of chaos and carnage.

  • Where’s the lone voice who asks, “Why do we need pyrotechnics in a small club?”
  • Where’s the single person who bucks the flow and asks, “In the event of a fire, is this nightclub equipped with sprinklers?”
  • Where’s the voice of reason who stops and asks, “Does lighting a fire in a crowded room make sense?”

Nope. You get one person with a cool idea (“Fireworks!”) and 100 other sycophants who go with the flow. Unfortunately, 100+ people are dead because no one stopped to question the status quo.

And that’s the danger of Quora. A bunch of people come together and someone lights a fire by way of a question. People don’t know whether to run (and offer dissent) or watch (because it’s part of the show).

I say run. Run fast.

You don’t need to spend your time at The Station Night Club, listening to Great White, or answering questions on Quora.

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