Monday, 12 April 2010

Crowd Sourcing for Progress

I really can’t go anywhere these days without hearing about crowd sourcing – the power of the crowd. Here are a few numbers, reports, sites that I came across recently and each made me think about the positive power of collaboration on a grand scale :

  • Ushahidi initiative in Kenya – uses the power of the crowd to make people aware of incidents of crime via SMS messages on people’s phones
  • Wikinomics, Lisbon Council report- on the era of openess
  • ThinkTank - an open source crowdsourcing platform the White House will use.
  • Open Gov – This is a project which is opening the US government's data and plans to the citizens.
  • Appropedia- a powerful wiki on sustainable development and a partner of wikiprogress.
  • Facebook is now the fourth largest country in the world.
  • Wikiprogress has increased 1000% in visits and articles since January 2010.
  • Wikigender visits have been increasing every month since September 2009.

The OECD and the Global Project for Measuring the Progress of Societies chose to try collaborative community style wikis rather than just the traditional website. These projects, through partnerships, search engine optimization and social networking are working to harness the power of the internet to try to take stock in initiatives surrounding gender quality and societal well being. These are two topics where it is particularly interesting to crowd source (or try to get as many people in the community as possible). In the field of gender equality, one of the main issues is data or lack thereof. A traditional website is not asking for opinions or inviting more people to contribute to the cause. Wikigender is asking you to contribute to gender equality by submitting your data, your videos and your initiatives rather than asking you to sit back and read what we have written. The site belongs to the community of users. Wikiprogress is looking at societal well being. Isn’t it up to the citizens to decide what is best for them? Wikiprogress is asking for your data, your initiatives and your opinions and the hope is that we will start to get more initiatives at the community level.

But what about quality? These wikis better have the highest quality data, articles and editorial! The OECD has very high quality work and a rigorous editorial process ensuring this. However, traditional media cannot possibly compete with the internet and the collaborative communities it enables. In a wiki style of working, if we can attract voices from the South or voices from the ground, we can gather more data and have exponentially increasing editors. Basically we are casting a wider net with this kind of organization. With more people watching the site, the better the quality becomes.

So if everyone can go on a wiki and upload their data and publish what they like, what will happen to the “expert”? The Ushahidi site uses crowd sourcing to make people aware of incidents of crime via SMS messages on people’s phones but it doesn’t analyze the crimes committed and punish the perpetrators (yet!). Clearly, there will always be a place for the expert in this world so I don’t think there is any need to worry. This is not to minimize the expert but rather to augment the expert supplying more data so more people can be more informed about policies their government and others are making.

A wiki is only a platform. It is the content in the platform that I get excited about. It is the power of a crowd of people working toward the same end without the usual incentives that drive people to do things. I find that very interesting and a real feeling of hope is generated with that.


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