Monday, June 8, 2009

Expertise or crowdsourcing? David Risley practices good housekeeping

What is expertise? by Alan Levine (cogdog) used under a Creative Commons License

Online and in the real world, there's a continuing debate regarding whether we should turn to so-called experts to provide analysis, or if we should instead trust the wisdom of the crowds.

On June 3, David Risley wrote a post entitled Just Got BBB Accreditation. But, Does It Matter Anymore? While some of his comments were specific to his online business, and how people feel about online businesses, Risley also addressed more general issues.

We most definitely live in a world of information now. Chances are, if you want to find out if a business is reputable, a quick Google search will tell you all you need.

The BBB was formed with the mission of advancing “marketplace trust”. They do this by holding their members accountable to trustworthy business practices, encouraging best practices, and speaking out against bad market behavior. I think it is a worthy mission. However, the questions remains: Does anybody really bother checking the BBB anymore?

The answer to that question needs to be provided by each individual business. Risley noted the following in his case:

[T]he normal “joe blow” on the street who doesn’t live their life on the Internet is probably not accustomed to long form sales letters. Internet businesses are unproven territory to these people. They look for signs that the business is legit and that they’re not going to take your money and run.

This is why I bothered with the BBB.

On the same day (June 3), I wrote a post in my Empoprise-MU music blog entitled Rolling Who? What about 131901319013190's opinion of the Spencer Pratt song?. In the post, I compared the immediate song reviews that you can get from a crowd to the reviews, possibly delayed, that you can get from music experts (e.g. Robert Hilburn).

And there are countless other examples of this. If you have a Ford car, do you dare to go anywhere other than a Ford dealer to get an oil change? Can a company run its business on open source software? Does the state of California have too many ballot propositions?

In these and many other cases, we can't decide whether we should trust the wisdom of the crowds, or the wisdom of a selection process. Those who argue for the latter would say that I should check with an authoritative source before doing business with David Risley, I should seek someone employed as a music journalist to evaluate music, I'd better take my car to the dealer that's certified to maintain it, I'd better buy software from a company that screens its employees, and I should trust the elected legislature to make decisions on my behalf.

In short, there are times that we seek something like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. And yes, the Good Housekeeping Seal still exists. But even the Good Housekeeping Seal has limits:

EXCLUSIONS This policy does not extend to the following products and services, even if advertised in the magazine: insurance; financial/investment services and products; realty (including housing of any kind); franchise operations; automotive and camping vehicles; public transportation; travel facilities and hotels; catalogs and merchandise portfolios; "Shopping by Mail" items; premiums and prizes; schools, summer camps, and similar organizations; contraceptives, prescribed drugs, and medical procedures, facilities, and some devices (including cosmetic ones); alcoholic beverages; services (such as cleaning and repair services and Internet access providers); unbranded food products and branded deli foods not sold in individual packages; products sold only to the trade; self-diagnostic devices; diet plans; contact lenses; fire alarms and suppressants; carbon monoxide detectors; home security systems and devices; infant/toddler car seats and restraints; swim aids, flotation devices, and pool toys; and institutional advertisements.

Which is why David Risley didn't get the Good Housekeeping Seal. But I would gladly have given him the Empoprises Non-Slimy Internet Entrepreneur Award.

But I don't think he'd want it.
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