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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Crowd Sourcing...

I always find it interesting when people talk about this - particularly in the context of print.  For example there is a blog here which discusses it sort of relative to print.

Now this is, for the most part, the dumbest idea for the internet yet.  Why people get on these band wagons is really beyond me and common sense.

So let's think about this:

When they say things like "Crowd Sourcing" its outsourcing of idea generation or tasks that would normally be tackled by employed workers or contractors for a particular company." (Taken from a link in the aforementioned blog here.)  What they really mean is that we're either too stupid or too lazy to come up with ideas on our own so we're going to get others to do the work for us.  Not only that, but our basic idea to "crowd source" must be so lame that we don't care if anyone steals it or hands it over to our competitor.

Really, what kind ideas will you get are from people who have nothing better to do than sit around and respond to silly "crowd sourcing" requests (say, as opposed to a pro who's sitting around to busy to respond because they are doing real work somewhere)?  (Yes, I know it works sometimes - but then again the person with the good idea may have gone and done something else on his own too.)

There is often confusion between crowd sourcing and networking (a la Facebook).  Real crowd sourcing is something like Wikipedia (which I often use for links to explain very basic things), the Linux operating system or the GNU software folks.  In these cases you are getting a group of people to work on something for no pay which presumably benefits a larger group in some positive way.

Its also confused with contests - situations where someone offers a prize if someone figures out some better way to do things.  For example, Netflix offered a prize for anyone who came up with the biggest improvement in their predictive algorithm for offering you your next movie (one million dollars - its already been won).

The good news is that for basic things this works okay.

You get something that works and there are devotees to tend it once its up.  Once there is a sufficient critical mass, e.g., Wikipedia, it sort of rolls along on its own.

Now for the bad news...

Personally I have used Linux and its many derivative products over the years - most extensively in the software area and specifically in the area of compilers - which are programs that build my commercial software products.  None are as good are commercial products, i.e., products written by computer professionals.  Do they make you feel good you are not paying for software - sure - but they are just not as good.

They are not as reliable either and they don't create output that's on par with commercial products, and, most importantly, there is no way to get them "fixed" if there is a problem.

(Ever see a mob put the glass back into the storefront?)

In the case of Wikipedia its far worse.  Wikipedia is not a fact-based reference - its a collection of edits and input from unknown sources.  Sure there are references and such - but its not necessarily fact.  There is a supposed NPOV (Neutral Point of View) policy for resolving "issues".  But, if you think about it, even by simply not updating an entry one can color the perspective an entry provides.

If you want to know what the "Goldbach Conjecture" is - Wikipedia is a great resource - but what it says must be cross checked if you go anywhere beyond the first paragraph or two.  But don't expect a NPOV on contentious entries, e.g., Global Warming.

Here's another question:

Are you smart enough to correctly resolve what the crowed is telling you?  Probably not - otherwise you wouldn't need the crowd in the first place.

On the other hand - you could ask you average lemming... or, er. wait - a little google research says that lemmings don't really just "run off cliffs" as the common vernacular says... (it happens in the case of other animals or accidentally during a "rush" but its not like you think).

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