After reading the article this morning in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the law student who crowdsourced the writing of her graduation speech at Stanford (full article here), I thought perhaps it would be relevant to write a quick blog post about crowdsourcing.
Crowdsourcing, quite simply is using a lot of talented web-based people to complete a task. There are several types of crowdsourcing: Microtasks, Macrotasks, Crowdfunding and Contests (The Daily Crowdsource).
Sometimes large tasks can be broken down into small well defined tasks, called microtasks that crowds of people can complete. A great example of this is the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project. The SETI project began in 1999 as a distributed computing project where desk top computers when connected to the internet could download or upload packets of data. When those computers were not fully utilizing their processing power, they could run the packets of data in the background to search for patterns in recordings of space transmissions. The purpose of this search was to distinguish regular space noise from potential extraterrestrial life noise. In more recent years, the same technique has been used by reCAPTCHA. reCAPTCHA simply presented two words to you when you were logging into websites, one which they knew, the other was text that was nondecipherable by optical character recognition software (OCR), thereby using large numbers of people to decipher the text of archives of The New York Times and several Google Books. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk utilizes microtasks in an even more conscience way by allowing employers to post small tasks and individuals to simply complete those tasks on their time for a minimal fee ($.05). And, in a world of large data sets where everyone contributes one small piece, microtasks can be used to create very powerful data sets. See Aaron Koblin’s TED Talk on Visualizing ourselves with crowd-sourced data where he used Mechanical Turk to create very large data sets, very economically.
The second types of crowdsourcing is macrotasks. Within this type you present a project to a crowd and ask them to get involved in whatever portions they are talented in. Examples of macrotasking is when several people might come together to write a paper, or as in the example from the Chronicle of Higher Education, a commencement speech. A large group of people would participate whenever they could and would contribute whatever expertise they have. An example of this is Wikipedia.
The third type, crowdfunding, is when a project or product is explained, and a group of people can contribute financially toward the development of the product, or the launch and completion of a project. The examples here are too many to list, but right now there is a kitchen trash can on Kickstarter that has a pledged backing of $97,681!
And finally the fourth type, contests. Contests ask a crowd to contribute things like logo designs, or to name a business. They present the “winner” with sometimes nothing more than a public announcement of the winners name and design. We used this technique at the Kimmel Education & Research Center a year ago to name the characters of our #HappyOrchard iPad app.
My reason however for writing this post is not necessarily to explain crowdsourcing, but to get you, the Next Generation Extension readers involved in a discussion. I want to know what you think about these questions:
- How are you currently using crowdsourcing within Extension?
- What key functions within Nebraska Extension could/should be crowdsourced?
- Should the digitally native population of Nebraska be engaged in defining Nebraska Extension for the future? And if so, should/does crowdsourcing play a role in that process?