Minimizing Influence

We are launching the evaluation interface for Click! today, so I wanted to take this opportunity to write about some of the choices behind the design. In The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki asserts that for a crowd to be wise, maintaining diversity and independence are two key factors. Both issues are talked about at length in chapters two and three of the book, but here is a small sampling to give you an idea:

“Diversity helps because it actually adds perspectives that would otherwise be absent and because it takes away, or at least weakens, some of the destructive characteristics of group decision making.”

“Independence is important to intelligent decision making for two reasons. First, it keeps the mistakes that people make from becoming correlated. […] Second, independent individuals are more likely to have new information rather than the same old data everyone is already familiar with. The smartest groups, then, are made up of people with diverse perspectives who are able to stay independent of each other. “

As we started planning for this phase of the exhibition, I started to recognize that many of the features we see on successful websites today are designed to foster community, but they also create a great deal of influence. The view counts, comments, favorites, most e-mailed, and leader boards of sites we all love (Flickr, Digg, StumbleUpon, NetFlix, The New York Times, etc.) are built on the influence of others, so when thinking about the online components of this exhibition, we wanted to minimize influence as much as possible and re-think features that are now commonplace. Of course, there have been plenty of times I’ve wondered if anyone would take part if we didn’t include some of these features that everyone has come to expect, but we’ll have to wait and see on that one.

You may have noticed that during the Open Call, we didn’t have any preview of the images being submitted. We wanted to hold true to the book as much as possible, so photographers were asked to make a decision for themselves without basing it on what they could see others doing. We selected a theme, “The Changing Faces of Brooklyn”, that could have a wide variety of interpretations, but would also keep the amount of submissions to a manageable size so as not to overwhelm the evaluation phase. Both aspects, variety of interpretation and the blind call, were designed to foster diversity and independence in the submitted works.

During the evaluation, images will be presented both without attribution and at random. We’ve suppressed the permalink in the address bar, to discourage people from sending a link and saying “hey, go vote for this.” To keep interest, we’ve added a preview of the next two images in line, but neither are clickable to prevent skipping around in the interface. You can always see your own stats, but we don’t reveal how others have rated a work. You can leave comments, but they won’t be revealed until after the exhibition opens.

You can even see these ideas in our widget. Designed to help spread the word about the show, the widget had a very simple informational design during the Open Call period. Beginning with the online evaluation, the widget will pick up a set of images to help pique people’s interest in the show, but because we don’t want to cause unwanted influence, the widget picks up a different set images displays them at random every time the page is refreshed.

widget.jpg <– Widget during the Open Call

<–Widget during evaluation w/ random images on refresh

So, now it’s up to you! If you don’t have an account already, sign up for one and start evaluating! Your participation will shape the exhibition, opening June 27, 2008.