Voting and the tyranny of the masses

College startup askes:

What if the New York Times let users vote on stories on their webpage the way Digg lets users vote? Wouldn’t it be more interesting to visit the website and see what real people found interesting? Wouldn’t that help the editors figure out which authors were most interesting to the public?

The internet has changed a lot in just the last two years. Despite social pundits predictions of saying that the internet separates people, we find that more and more internet applications are social, and brings them together in different ways. There isn’t just IRC, homepages, newsgroups, forums, and eBay anymore; but now there are blogs, digg, and del.icio.us.

And where we find ourselves right now are social web applications–things that connect people to each other through some medium. I too am excited by the democratization of mediums, such as keyword tagging in flickr and del.icio.us, and the voting by members of digg. It allows fridges and innovations not normally seen in mainstream to rise meteorically to the attention of the masses.

The concept of decentralized thinking is alluring in that it is the anti-thesis of traditional centralized mediums, such as radio and TV. Also, it allows the individual more power, especially individuals on the outside of established paths.

The current political climate also allows such decentralizations, as opposed to the red-scare in America 40 some odd years ago.

However, despite the good movement towards democratization (used in the sense of giving more power to individuals not in established institutions), I don’t believe it’s applicable to all mediums.

There’s a reason why the American founding fathers did NOT make a democracy; rather they deliberately made a republic. The distinction is that it respects the rights of minorities, and hence the existance of the electoral college.

Currently, Digg is a direct democracy–a dictatorship of the majority. While this is good for any type of fringe news, I don’t think it is good for the type of news that the New York Times intends to deliver, which is informative in the public interest.

If the New York Times gave a direct democracy for all its news, then only the “fun” and “quirky” stories will rise to the top. You’d probably see more stories about Hollywood than about police corruption in the city.

There would need to be some type of segmentation for categories, so you can see the most voted for a particular category. Or, there would be a need for some type of electoral college for the New York Times.

Decentralization of new mediums is exciting and enables new things to happen, new innovations, and new ways to communicate. However, it would be a mistake to think that the new transplants everything old. The old is sometimes that way through intent, not by limitations.

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