Trusting Your Friends vs. “The Authority”

You’re trying to decide what computer to buy. Who do you ask for advice — your tech friend who knows your particular tastes or The Authority (CNet reviews for example)?

You’re trying to decide what restaurant to eat at. Who do you trust more — your friend who has historical insight into other restaurants you like or The Authority ( aggregated reviews)?

You’re trying to decide what movie to watch. Do you ask your friend or check IMDB to tap the wisdom of crowds?

Many web 2.0 products hype the “social graph” — all the things you can do when you’re intimately connected to what your friends are doing, buying, recommending, etc. in real time.

When pondering the potential applications of these products, it’s often assumed that we will rely more and more on people who actually know us since we will be connected to them in a regular and comprehensive way. But I’m not so sure.

People are deferential to authority. We glorify experts. There’s no doubt that I want to hang out with my friends on the weekend rather than The Expert on Having a Good Time on the Weekend. But when it comes to buying a computer, or finding the best political commentary online, or any number of other transactional goals, I prefer to tap into a larger, anonymous sphere called The Google or the collected wisdom of qualified strangers.

Bottom Line: Just because the web can make us more connected with our friends this doesn’t mean we will necessarily want to rely on their personal opinions more.

[Related Post: Advice on Giving Advice. When you seek advice, should you consult the domain expert or someone who knows you best? Your mother may know you best but she may not know the industry you’re considering going in to.]

2 comments on “Trusting Your Friends vs. “The Authority”
  • Interesting article, Ben.
    I agree with you that in some cases, an expert’s opinion is more valuable than a friends one, but only in some.
    In my experience, when looking for anything which involves an interaction with another person I tend to care more about what my acquaintances have to say and when looking for a thing, I do find an authority’s review more valuable.
    For instance, If I were looking for a lawyer, I’d probably give more weight to the positive recommendation of a friend than to the top lawyers list of the Barcelona’s Bar Association. That is, when there are soft skills involved I do care more about what my friends have to say, because I believe their impression will have more common points with mine.

  • @Ben

    If you haven’t already, read NNT’s The Black Swan and have a gander at his take on ‘experts’. From a NYT book review:

    [History, he writes, proceeds by “jumps,” controlled by “the tyranny of the singular, the accidental, the unseen and the unpredicted.” Gradual change is our paradigm, yet actual change is “almost always outlandish.” And don’t get Taleb started on the Experts. Experts are charlatans who believe in bell curves, in which most distribution is toward the center — ordinary and knowable. Far more powerful, Taleb argues, are the wild outcomes of fractal geometry, in which anything can happen overnight. (“The Black Swan” is dedicated to Benoit Mandelbrot, godfather of fractal geometry.)]

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