Rant: When Social Media and Crowdsourcing gets hijacked by Groupthink

I read a guest post on Cult of Mac today that got me hopping mad. Written by Adel Zakout, it’s basically about how Apple’s new campus needed to be crowdsourced. Oh, and incidentally, Mr Zakout owns a crowdsourcing platform (and a mobile app) for buildings etc.

It’s a reaction to this video (I tweeted about it yesterday):

And here’s my comment reproduced in full below (with minor edits to fix grammatical slips and typographical slurs 🙂

This post reminds me of Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead. More specifically, it reminds me of the architects who opposed Howard Roark’s heretic designs since they didn’t include the sort of features that the others were including in their own buildings (think Grecian columns).

Let me quote Mr Zakout and address each of his points:

“To be able to take part in an open process of deciding what types of buildings, spaces and community projects are planned, that ultimately affect our everyday lives.”

How exactly does the Apple campus, or any company’s campus affect the everyday lives of the people who live in the area but don’t work there?

The biggest Effect? Traffic: A large campus housing a lot of people will result in more commuters. That was a question that was asked and addressed — the current offices there have 9,500 people working, and therefore, commuting to and fro.

However, Mr Zakout goes further. For some reason he believes “the community didn’t seem to be involved in the decision-making process behind the building.”

How exactly does he want the community to be involved — help Steve buy the land, or pay for the architects so they can be part of briefing and review meetings, or perhaps become architects themselves …

“although I would question how considerate it is to its local history and surroundings. Yes, the increase of green space and the fact that it is a low-rise building is thoughtful – but, architecturally, this building could be located in London, Beijing or Dubai. It doesn’t seem to have any specific contextual link.”

Correct me if I am wrong but that reads to me like the author is suggesting that every locality has an architectural style that needs to be preserved, and copied ad nauseum.

Also, buildings aren’t located anywhere architecturally, they are located in places physically. So, this building, whatever you may think of it is NOT located in London, Beijing or Dubai — this is, at best, a specious argument.

“What about the thoughts and concerns of the local residents – whether positive or negative?”

Ah, Mr Zakout, how nice of you to take up cudgels on behalf of the local residents. It’s so easy to get free publicity when you become a champion for the poor, the needy, the downtrodden. How about we wait for the meeting where the building permissions will be discussed, and any objections that the town may have will be aired.

“Developers and Architects need to also be able to engage with the local community when thinking about buildings in order to manage their process more transparently.”

In other words, Mr Zakout, developers, architects, steve jobs, and the town of Cupertino needs to sign up on your website. This last point is perhaps the most vulgar of the lot.

I have a day job heading one of India’s leading social media agencies. I have built tools enabling crowd-sourced ideation that are being used by fairly interesting people in interesting ways. But, I also have the good fortune of a childhood that included reading Orwell and Huxley.

What Mr Zakout suggests is not a crowdsourced alternative, he is pushing for groupthink. He seems to believe a collective intelligence can design a better building than an individual expert. Leave architecture to the architects Mr Zakout, and let the good folks of Cupertino fight their own battles.