Crowdsourcing – some further examples


Yesterday I blogged about Galaxy Zoo. Thats the project that needs your help to process and categorize images of Galaxies captured by robot telescopes. As I explained, the motivation is that the very best pattern recognition engine known to humanity sits between your ears. However, what is also quite fascinating is that this is just one example of crowdsourcing.

The term is a shorthand phrase that basically describes the trend of leveraging the Internet technologies to facilitate mass collaboration. Many applaud it, but not all do, there is also controversy and criticism. Some observe that there are no written contracts or agreements, so you are totally at the mercy of those who take part. One specific vocal individual is the Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales … yea, I choked on that one as well at first, especially when Wikipedia is itself a crowdsourcing project. However, what he makes a valid point when he says ..

I find the term ‘crowdsourcing’ incredibly irritating,” Wales says. “Any company that thinks it’s going to build a site by outsourcing all the work to its users not only disrespects the users but completely misunderstands what it should be doing. Your job is to provide a structure for your users to collaborate, and that takes a lot of work.

He is quite right of course, its open to a lot of abuse, and simply dumping it on the net is not a recipe for success. I love galaxy Zoo, because its a great example of how to get it oh so right. There they present a clear well-defined mission, give you training and then let you loose to leverage your passion to assist. However, they wisely deploy a system of checks and balances by striving to have each image categorized independently up to 30 times in order to account for the very human factor and thus iron out malicious and also accidental errors.

So what other examples are out there? Well, here are a couple. Its not a complete list, just a few to show you what is now happening.

  • Galaxy Zoo of course goes to the top of my list, but others may of course have other preferences.
  • Facebook … yep, they have been tapping into the collective hive mind to translate their site
  • Want your own gold mine? OK, how about Canadian gold mining group Goldcorp making 400 megabytes of geological survey data on its Red Lake, Ontario, property available to the public over the Internet. They offered a $575,000 prize to anyone who could analyze the data and suggest places where gold could be found.
  • Do you remember the UK MP Expense Scandal? Well, The UK’s Guardian newspaper (the only one not owned by a Bond villain) created a system to allow the public to search methodically through 700,000 expense-claim documents. Over 20,000 people participated in finding erroneous and remarkable expense claims by Members of Parliament (Think expense claims for moats and duck houses … really yes, I’m not kidding)
  • Feeling a little lost? How about OpenStreetMap, its a free editable map of the world, which has over 100,000 signed up contributors in mid 2009.
  • How about the Open Dinosaur Project, this is a community research project to aggregate published measurements of ornithischian dinosaur limb bones for many different taxa in order to study the multiple evolutionary transitions from bipedality to quadrupedality in this group of dinosaurs.
  • OK, yes, I’ll not leave them out. The most obvious example is of course Wikipedia … but then we are have spin-offs for the collective crowdsourcing of plain stupidity such as conservapedia (I’m using a small ‘c’ to spell that, they are such complete morons they don’t deserve the uppercase spelling)

Now what is also interesting is the the Crowdsourcing concept need not just be about tapping into your talent, but can also tap into other resources as well … how about …

  • Crowd funding – many good causes need your help, I can see this as a means to rapidly raise funds
  • Crowd voting – they try and manipulate us in whatever way they can, why would this be an exception, but then perhaps this allows grassroots movements to rapidly rise when needed … now thats a new twist.

So if you have wondered where the rise of the Internet would take us all, it looks as if this is one fasinating unfolding. The dramatic increase in the flow of information has empowered us all to collaborate and work together on a scale never seen before, and that can only be a good thing.

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