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The wisdom of the crowds and higher education

November 3, 2019

an ox plowing a field
One of my all time favorite RadioLab episodes is on the wisdom of crowds, and is called The Invisible Hand.

Basically, the theory is that crowds are smarter than people. The most famous example comes from at story in 1906 in England, where the crowd was asked to guess the weight of an ox. No one got it right, but the average of all guesses was exactly right.

The guy who ran the experiment was Sir Francis Galton, who also invented eugenics.It is a fascinating episode because it also talks about Google.

Google search is the Wisdom of Crowds. 

When a student becomes aware of a college, or when an already aware student wants to find out more about a college, they will go to our current version of a wisdom machine — Google.

Google has mountains and mountains of data. How people search. What people who search for College X do next.

If you search for your college, then immediately search for another one, Google will display the “wisdom of the crowds” and show you searches that match those two colleges.

When you search for a college, Google will add a section on the Knowledge called “People also searched for” and display a number of colleges that are based on crowd sourced data.

Even the “Notable Alumni” section is based on how people search for a school’s alumni.

Google is basically a wisdom of the crowds search engine and that is perhaps a good, or a bad thing.

In an episode from CBC’s Spark called “The case against predictability” they talk about what this means.

Plainly, it means that what happens next on Google depends on what scores and scores of people have done in the past.

Algorithms take our measure and influence our behaviour. But who’s interest does this serve?

It is one of my favorite podcasts, and this episode is why I love it. It makes me think, and wonder about our digital lives, and it is from Toronto and so am I.

In light of a world where Google and the crowds are in charge of what happens digitally, any rebranding or change, or repositioning will be eclipsed by the actions of people in the past.

Can you rebrand your SERP?

That’s the question, right? People redo their .edu, make a new logo, add a tagline, but here’s the question: can you rebrand yo

ur SERP (Search Engine Results Page) in an age where the crowds are in control of what a prospective student sees next?

I think the answer is yes. I think schools are able to throw resources at the place that really matters.

Take a listen to the two shows above, then hit me up on Twitter with your thoughts.

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