Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Crowdsourcing - putting our heads together

Last week, I heard a really interesting story on NPR. As part of a series on legislating, lobbying and money, NPR posted a photograph of a room full of lobbyists during a recent Senate session on health care reform on its website. The reporters then asked viewers to help identify faces in the crowd- to give names and organizations for the lobbyists in the room. Folks had a lot to say about how all these lobbyists made them feel about our legislative system, but they also provided many of these names, a process NPR identified as “crowd sourcing.” Check out the story and the interactive image here.

"Crowdsourcing" is a new term for me, but not for many in the business world. According to Wikipedia, crowdsourcing is “the act of taking a task traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people or community in the form of an open call.” Now usually, I wouldn’t turn to Wikipedia for a definition, but in this case, user generated content seems perfectly appropriate.

There are lots of examples of crowdsourcing in business. Take Threadless: the online t-shirt retailer receives scads of t-shirt designs submitted by professional and amateur artists. Website visitors then vote for their favorites, and those top ranked designs are put into production, and sold on the site.

It’s certainly not a new concept in journalism either. News websites and reporters solicit viewer reports on the weather, gas prices, or even injuries at amusement parks.

And how about the news coming out of Iran during the height of the recent election protests? The State Department asked that Twitter delay its system updates, so that we wouldn’t lose contact with Iranian Twitter accounts. The “crowd” was informing our major news networks, and was an invaluable source of information.

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