The internet has long gone by the rules of the mob. The one with the most followers, the post with the most comments, the memes that won’t die. Every day millions more Netizens join the collective and throw their weight around in whatever way they choose.
The web has been a great enabler of crowdsourcing. The millions and millions of eyes, ears and voices means that the collective power of people has been used to create Wikipedia and other archive sites, online dictionaries such as Urban Dictionary, even write a book.
Citizen Journalism has risen in popularity to the point that many mainstream organizations let their readers write the news for them. Businesses have turned to crowdsourcing for jobs, improving apps, testing website defences. And a million other things.
Spare Some Change?
Possibly the most high profile form of Crowdsourcing over the past year has been crowdfunding. Whether it’s Anonymous looking to start a news site, 90s film stars looking to make it big again without Hollywood, or beating Apple to the punch, the possibilities are almost limitless. It’s also massively popular; last year, crowdsourcing’s big boy, Kickstarter, raised over $300 million across 18,000 projects.
The technology page of Kickstarter provides a near-endless supply of gizmos and gadgets that dare you to open your wallet; wearable tech, games, blogging software, mini-PCs, solar batteries, smarthouse apps, you name it, and you can fund it. Two of the site’s most popular projects have been a household 3D printer, and the Pebble smartwatch, both of which now have dozens of clones vying for your precious moola.
This democratic approach is great for unorthodox innovation. Consumers get influence in what gets made (and often get a bit of creative influence for larger donations) and on a personal level get to feel a part of the creative process. It showed that people wanted smartwatches, and soon, and let a little company get there ahead of the big boys such as Apple and Samsung. It’s also successful in critical terms; three Kickstarter-funded films were nominated at the Academy awards, and one actually won the award for best documentary short.
However, too much of a good thing can be bad, as old dearies like to say. Crowdsourcing is full of projects that have become victims of their own success, and come close to imploding from all the effort to cope with subsequent demand.
A Mob For Good?
But with everything, there is a downside. Whether or not you applaud Anonymous’ activities, their crowdsourced approach to hacking has crippled some major organizations, and brought a mob rules morality to web, punishing anyone deemed not to be doing the right thing. In the light of the Boston bombings, Reddit took on the role of investigator, looking through footage of the event and trying to figure out the culprits. While a laudable idea, it actually became a witch hunt, focusing and naming people who simply looked a bit dodgy, but were entirely innocent.
These are just two examples were the crowd take it too far. There are lots more examples where letting the masses help can go wrong. The anonymity the internet provides can lead to all sorts of abuses, even if some of it is harmless trolling for fun. But equally so, a lack of a crowd can stop an idea in its tracks. It’s a fine balance.
Crowdsourcing doesn’t, and can’t solve all the world’s problems. Though there are almost endless applications, it still takes the drive of individuals to lead. Getting the public at large involved can be immensely helpful, but be wary that crowdsourcing can quickly turn from a great idea to a terrible one with a few clicks.
What’s your opinion on crowdsourcing, is it a good thing? Comment below.
Phil Muncaster reports on China and beyond