Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Two's Company


The Oxford English dictionary added the term crowdsourcing to it's dictionary in 2013 defining it as the "practice of obtaining information or sources by soliciting input from a large number of people."  Since it's first published use in 2006 crowdsourcing has been embraced by political movements, police investigators, and entrepenuers and artists looking for new and creative ways of obtaining funding.  It has been both incredibly helpful, and damaging; yesterday Reddit shut down a group looking for the DC base shooter, afraid that, similar to incidents after the Boston bombing, innocent people would be publicly accused.

My first experience with crowdsourcing was in the early days of SETI, an acronym for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.  SETI uses the the combined computing power of personal computers to sift through radio waves and other cosmic noise in the hope of finding evidence of intelligent life.  It is the largest distributed computing effort in the world and the old stand-by for geeks and conspiracy theorists. To me, it also represents the best of our early dreams of the internet and what we might have done if privacy and piracy and commerce has not forced us to build fire walls and enhanced encryption; it is a relic from our naive days of "free sharing" on the internet.

I find the recent popularity of crowdfunding sites a hopeful indication that we are moving back towards a healthy kind of internet collectivism. What I love about crowdfunding is it's reliance on the numbers. The success of a project does not lie in the generosity of wealthy donors or you best friends willingness to cough up a donation equal in value to the blender you got them for their wedding, but on small donations from many many people.  Crowdsourcing is intended to cast a broad net, reaching as many people as possible and asking of them only what they can afford, and it work.  If 200 people all pledge twenty dollars to a project, that's 4000 dollars in the coffer, the same amount of money if 400 people give just ten dollars.  In this respect, a little goes a long way.

In an era of waning funding for the arts, an ongoing recession, and increasing dependence on the internet for social interaction, crowdsourcing is a necessary new normal and a great opportunity.  It is how new movies and albums and books will be chosen for publication and new products will get their launch.  Crowdsourcing skips the focus groups and market research and goes directly to the people.  You like it, you fund it.  It's that easy.

Like what you are reading?  Then support the Kickstarter for my book Girl Gone Wild- On Being a Woman in the Wilderness.  Thanks!


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