Crowdsourcing the world


Jeff Howe, who coined the term “crowdsourcing,” defines it as “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent – usually an employee – and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people, in the form of an open call.”

When Vancouverites gathered for the second Fresh Media ReMixology event, I, along with other event organizers, expected a conversation focused on crowdsourced media making. What we didn’t entirely foresee is that people have a hunger to learn not just about this new form of media making, but also about what this form of production means for other spheres of society.

We shouldn’t have been surprised considering several of us organizers conceptualized the ReMixology series as being, in part, about remixing our roles and society at large – society as an open platform – but it was a surprise nonetheless.

Crowdsourcing media

The Fresh Media discussion began with a focus on media with UBC journalism professor Alfred Hermida introducing the topic of crowdsourcing. Hermida noted, “News organizations are exploring more collective, collaborative approaches, often around the edges of their news operations.” He talked about using the crowd for observation, breaking news and investigative work.

Leigh Cristie of the eatART Foundation talked about how he uses the web to crowd-cast – calls for participation – for specific project needs and to bring a community of contributors together. David Asher from Mozilla Foundation talked about how they have millions of people testing and thousands contributing to Mozilla software like the well-known Firefox web browser.

From what I could glean from the discussion, both of the roles involved in online media –production and the technical tools required to make sense of what’s out there in terms of content – still need to be full developed. But our conversation made clear that the process of figuring all this out is well underway.

It’s not about media

While it was interesting surveying the role of crowdsoucing in the world of media, art and software, the ReMixology conversation quickly moved to broader questions about the role crowdsourcing – and specifically twitter – plays in social movements and its role in the broader offline world. Reilly Yeo asked a question about the role of social media in social movements, citing a recently widely circulated article on the subject by Malcolm Gladwell. Perhaps the best response came from twitter user Miraj Khaled (@asterix), who said, “Twitter is only a platform & crowdsourcing a process. Movements are built by real people i.e. “influencers” with the aid of these tools.”

As Miraj suggests, crowdsourcing is a process or mode of production that bases the production of media – and anything else – and decision-making within a community of people. As Asher notes, we’re at an “early stage of shifting form hierarchal control structures to much more organic, free form” ways of operating. Why not move the behaviours associated with crowdsourcing – collaboration, free sharing, promiscuous creatively – to the offline world?

In his appropriately titled book Crowdsourcing, Jeff Howe goes through a diverse array of examples where people have put crowdsourcing to use with everything from tracking birds to NASA’s tracking changes in the surface of Mars to making T-shirts. The open Internet has lowered the barriers for participation in all facets of life, not just media production.

This brings us back to the exciting moment we’re at now pertaining to media: it’s not just the content of media that can inspire change; it’s also the process of media making itself. As the boundaries and roles of the industrial era break down before our eyes, one thing is certain: it’s a good time to engage.

In case you’re wondering, yes, I did crowdsource this column about crowdsourcing.

The next Fresh Media ReMixology takes place November 6 at the W2 Media Arts Centre. Details at

Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He has written for The Tyee, Toronto Star, Epoch Times andAdbusters.

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