In a 2006 Wired article, Jeff Howe wrote a rather scathing introduction to the phenomenon known as crowdsourcing. In it, Howe outlines a number of ways crowdsourcing is creating substantially more harm than good to greater society. Using a business-geared model, Howe states that crowd sourcing has been used inappropriately and subsequently negatively affect the life of our economy with it only worsening as crowd sourcing is becoming ever more popular.
In this part of the article, Howe analyzes the extent to which crowd sourced material is grossly devaluing the market value of professional services. Citing professional photography and imaging, Howe essentially condemns the “cheaper” mode of getting a service done and questions the real cost of going to crowd sourced material. He asserts that the art of being a professional in a slew of services is being cheapened as customers settle for good enough material for their projects. Instead of looking at pro work as something to be valued or invested in, many people are now seeing quick ways to save money.
In this sub-section, Howe references the many ways television companies are crowd sourcing and the negative effects of the practice on television quality and warns against what toll this habit will take down the road. By bringing up the growing number of companies depending on viewer-submitted videos and images, Howe argues that the quality of viewing programs will only worsen, especially given the fact that the demand for crowd sourced footage and images might surpass the supply.
With this, Howe asserts that companies hav gotten far too comfortable going to customers to make their businesses more efficient. Instead of potentially using millions of dollars or countless more in bonuses or benefits to have their actual employees work to ensure the most efficient business model, they promote contests with significantly less in awarded prize money. Here, amateurs can try their hand at solving an incongruence for a company and win a seemingly hefty reward for it.
This final piece of Howe’s argument somewhat combines his previous streams of reasoning. With this, he derides using consumer knowledge to steadily work on rather simple, yet painstaking problems for a business. Although here, too, money is a crucial part of the argument, a latent drawback is human fallibility in working those simple tasks.
With this article, Howe pokes holes through the seemingly harmless logic and practice of many power and money hungry businesses. Crowd sourcing, by Howe’s definition, has significantly more drawbacks than it does potential advances when considering how it is used in corporate America.
I, however, would like to take a look at crowd sourcing from a different perspective. Although I fully acknowledge the terrible ways crowd sourcing has wreaked havoc on the potential for business growth and development, the practice, when used thoughtfully and with good intentions, only has positive outcomes.
Let’s take how it has been used in higher learning, for example. At Davidson College, crowd sourcing is used by authority as high up as administration, to community members as plentiful as your average student, and everyone in between. Some examples I can recall just in recent years were generated by student desire to give back to a college campus that had given us so much already. There is the Davidson Trust campaign that annually asks students to give personal stories about the benefits they feel our innovative financial aid package has given them and Davidson itself.
Recently, there was a student-led initiative to maintain the location of a beloved Multicultural House that rallied dozens of active voices and many more not so visible opinions in support of keeping the staple for diversity right where it is.
One of the more significant parts of my experience with Davidson came through my service work. As a Bonner Scholar, I was equipped with a number of tools and outlets to hone my skills in social justice and civic engagement work. One way we welcomed the campus to reflect with us was with a crowd sourced contest where we encouraged students, faculty, and staff to submit photos of their service experiences to be shown at the annual Celebration of Service. Collecting these photos from October 2011 until early April of 2012, many people submitted inspiring images of their experiences to share with the community what insight they had developed, or lesson they had learned.
Ultimately, the Flashes of Civic Engagement contest meant more than potentially winning an iPad, but submitting an image that was very significant in the context of our interconnected world and experiences. Instead of being extrinsically motivated by something material or tangible, I was internally pushed to dig deep and reflect on what was significant to me and why it was.
So let’s not say crowd sourcing should be eradicated, done for good. Let’s spin it and say crowd sourcing can be done for good.