Last week, Wired was on a Crowdsourcing kick that was pretty hard to miss if you were even a casual reader. Crowdsourcing, a topic I first tackled in Purchasing Innovation VI, then in Cambrian House: Crowdsourced Software, and more recently Democratizing Innovation Vs. Crowdsourcing is the process of delegating various tasks for which you do not have the manpower or expertise from internal production to external entities or affiliations of networked persons with the expertise, access to, or raw capabilities that you require.
Wired's crowdsourcing kick consisted of a series of articles that included Kristin Gorski's Creative Crowdwriting: The Open Book, J. Jack Unrau's The Experts at the Periphery, Derek Powazek's Exploring the Dark Side of Crowdsourcing, Patrick Crawford's News the Crowed Can Use, Sarah Cove's What Does Crowdsourcing Really Mean?, Randy Burge's Using Crowd Power for R&D, and Johannes Kuhn's Crowdsourcing Soccer in the U.K..
In What Does Crowdsourcing Really Mean?, Sarah Cove interviews Douglas Rushkoff, the New York based writer, columnist, and lecturer on technology, media, and popular culture, on crowdsourcing and related subjects.
Douglas Rushkoff, who is rubbed the wrong way by the term crowdsourcing, defines crowdsourcing as the corporatist framing of a cultural phenomenon. Crowdsourcing is a word. A company can look at [crowdsourcing] as either a threat - to their copyrights and intellectual property or as some unwanted form of competition - or, if they see it positively, as almost this new affinity group population to be exploited as a resource. When you call an open source, bottom-up effort crowdsourcing, clearly you are understanding it in a different way than open source communities might understand it.
In Exploring the Dark Side of Crowdsourcing, Derek Powazek interviews Ragnar Danneskjold of Subvert & Profit. Subvert and Profit is a web site that makes a business out of gaming the social media site Digg for paying advertisers - it serves the nice market for 'darker' crowdsourced actions.
In the article, Ragnar Danneskjold (an alias, of course) notes that the business is made possible by mixing the two quickly rising paradigms of crowdsourcing and undercover marketing and taking advantage of the fact that most Digg users understand that their community is a wild anarchy.
In the article, Karim Lakhani notes that crowdsourcing is a great mechanism for knowledge transfer, or that, in certain cases, crowdsourcing helps connect people who have ideas and knowledge about certain ways to solve a problem to those people who need a problem solved but don't have the knowledge and ideas. It allows us to enable experts on the periphery at the intersections of disciplines to come together and innovate in more of a systematic manner.
However, according to Karim, we on't know what the limits are yet, i.e. under what circumstances do they work, under what circumstances will they not work, when is it more efficient and effective to do a distributed model versus a closed or centralized model. Maybe that's why he believes that we do not want to think of crowdsourcing as a model by which someone can, or many people, can earn a living.
In News the Crowed Can Use, Patrick Crawford asks if social news sites can survive the very openness that makes them thrive.
According to the author, devotees of "crowdsourced" media sites love to equate social editing with democracy, and they've got at least one part of the comparison right: social editing is every bit as raucous, messy and enthralling as the electoral process. Social editing web sites allow users to source, debate and prioritize content without intervention from an editorial staff. And, more importantly, it appears, at least in some form, that they are hear to stay.
Alpheus notes that crowdsourcing can often be used to address the aspects of your business that feel most broken, to help deal with risks. For example, if you had a core research group that consisted of only five scientists trying to completely cover the four primary disciplines you needed to adequately manage internal research, you might find that your researches are stretched, especially on key aspects of diversity. That's where crowdsourcing can help you.
In other words, although it would appear that the definition of crowdsourcing is not yet completely understood or agreed upon, it seems that the experts agree that crowdsourcing - which can be positively used to tackle problems that can not be solved in house, or to socially select and edit news-worthy stories, or to find experts at the periphery - is, in some way, here to stay and those that find ways to take advantage of it could be in a better position to survive in this strange new distributed economy than those who do not.