Posted by: soniahs | November 3, 2010

Exam reading: “Crowdsourcing”

This book was more substantial and less rah-rah than I’d originally suspected it would be. There’s a fair amount of discussion of the different types of crowdsourcing, which includes public participation in science as well as the more profound stuff like t-shirt design 🙂

Jeff Howe. Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business. New York: Crown Business Press, 2009.

Summary: Howe discusses the rise of the “reputation economy”: unpaid work for recognition within a community, as an outgrowth of cheap production, underemployed creativity, and online communities. He calls crowdsourcing a “perfect meritocracy;” it fosters collaboration (as its own reward) and community formation. He does discuss drawbacks: shifts in business models/professions (photography, journalism), globalization & flattening of work hierarchies, and the possibility of ushering in cultural mediocrity (though he thinks the last is unlikely.) Overall, he suggests it’s away to utilize human talent better (idea is that people would still have day jobs, and collaborative projects would provide a creative outlet.) Howe outlines several types of crowdsourcing: collective intelligence (group innovation for problem solving; need diversity, and interaction can lead to a limiting consensus), crowd creation (making things, rather than applying existing expertise; need interaction for this), crowd voting/ranking, crowd finance (e.g., microloans.) For success, you need the right crowd and incentives, some professional employees (crowds are great at gathering data/brainstorming, but bad at analysis & organization), an overall frame and guidance for participants, and breakdown of tasks into doable pieces. Mentions 90% rule: 89% of everything is crap/10% is good/1% is great.

Comments: I’m still trying to decide whether crowdsourcing is a brilliant way to achieve meaningful personal expression or a clever ploy by the capitalist system to get free labor. I don’t want to be too negative about these efforts, because they do have great potential to add to the human experience. It seems like crowdsourcing operates much like academia is traditionally supposed to: open exchange of ideas, focus on interesting problems, etc., except that in academia people get paid for their work (I also wonder if there are also connections here to the current diminishing status of experts in a crowdsourcing world, which goes along with reduction in academic pay…) While academia left out a big group of people who now have potential to use this process, there’s still a majority without access to these technologies or who do not have time for this sort of collaboration that are being left out. Perhaps it’s best to think of these projects as a good place to start, rather than an endpoint.

Links to: Lave & Wenger (participants can be seen as LPPers); Liu (core list-politics of knowledge economy)



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