The wisdom of which crowd?

Dave Megginson recounts an interesting experience with the collective mind of Gmail users. When messages from a customer of his went AWOL, he found them in the Gmail spam trap. He surmises that even though this sender played by the opt-in/opt-out rules, the crowd made its own rule.

My guess is that they sent out an announcement, a lot of other gmail-users flagged it as spam, and whatever weighting algorithm gmail uses tipped it over so that the messages were no longer considered legit by default.

Dave concludes:

This new collaboration is an unexpected side-effect of the shift from desktop e-mail clients to web mail, and it would be foolish for companies not to pay attention.

I agree that companies should pay attention, and Dave’s list of do’s and don’ts (e.g., “I don’t care that your company just won five awards — SPAM!“) is spot on.

But while it’s true that we see this effect as a consequence of the shift from desktop e-mail to webmail, there’s no reason in principle why desktop e-mail clients can’t also contribute to this new crowd wisdom. Virtually all e-mail programs offer a “Mark as Spam” option. Those votes could be collected and processed by any cloud service, and not necessarily by one bound to any particular webmail service.

In Dave’s case, for example, he might rather not rely on the collective wisdom of the random group of folks with whom his Gmail account happens to be colocated, but instead on some trust circle of his own choosing or making.

The fact that we can’t separate these concerns is unrelated to the architectural choice of web-based versus client-based software. In both contexts we could specify whose wisdom we would like to add to our spam filters. We don’t have that choice today because we’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to exposing services that users can compose to their liking.

Elsewhere, meanwhile, Doug Purdy notes the integration between Google Talk and Google Reader — whereby shared items become visible to friends — and remarks:

I still can’t believe we don’t have something like Live Reader.

Of course Live Reader, like Google Reader, would almost certainly expect me to share within the artificial context defined by use of the service. It’d be refreshing to see a different take, one that would enable me to reach out to friends and associates across a range of reading and bookmarking services.

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4 thoughts on “The wisdom of which crowd?

  1. You should check out – it’s essentially what you are describing. A very cool application made by a few really sharp guys here in L.A. I met one of the founders at the last CTO Forum and came away very impressed with their chances of making a difference in the “social RSS” realm.

  2. I am surprised you have not seen this before, but there has been a tool around for quite some time from The biggest issue I always had was that it only did Outlook, and I was not permitted to use MS products. Then I switched from a Windows user to a Mac user, so again out of luck there. But my family still uses it and it works great.

  3. Hello John

    It’s quite interesting (revealing?) that rather than compliment the service that delivers the functionality you admire, you wish someone else was delivering it.

    Love your blog

    Regards, Matt.

  4. “you wish someone else was delivering it”

    I’m not complaining about Gmail, if that’s your interpretation. It’s an awesome service with great spam filtering. The point I’m making is that any large-scale service — be it Gmail or Ymail or Hotmail — will, if it aggregates the wisdom of its entire collective of users, miss out on the more specific and targeted kinds of wisdom held by subsets of the collective mind.

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