Crisis Information and The End of Crowdsourcing

When Wired journalist Jeff Howe coined the term crowdsourcing back in 2006, he did so in contradistinction to the term outsourcing and defined crowdsourcing as tapping the talent of the crowd. The tag line of his article was: “Remember outsourcing? Sending jobs to India and China is so 2003. The new pool of cheap labor: everyday people using their spare cycles to create content, solve problems, even do corporate R & D.”

If I had a tag line for this blog post it would be: “Remember crowdsourcing? Cheap labor to create content and solve problems using the Internet is so 2006. What’s new and cool today is the tapping of official and unofficial sources using new technologies to create and validate quality content.” I would call this allsourcing.

The word “crowdsourcing” is obviously a compound word that combines “crowd” and “sourcing”. But what exactly does “crowd” mean in this respect? And how has “sourcing” changed since Jeff introduced the term crowdsourcing over three-and-a-half years ago?

Lets tackle the question of “sourcing” first. In his June 2006 article on crowdsourcing, Jeff provides case studies that all relate to a novel application of a website and perhaps the most famous example of crowdsourcing is Wikipedia, another website. But we’ve just recently seen some interesting uses of mobile phones to crowdsource information. See Ushahidi or Nathan Eagle’s talk at ETech09, for example:

So the word “sourcing” here goes beyond the website-based e-business approach that Jeff originally wrote about in 2006. The mobile technology component here is key. A “crowd” is not still. A crowd moves, especially in crisis, which is my area of interest. So the term “allsourcing” not only implies collecting information from all sources but also the use of “all” technologies to collect said information in different media.

As for the word “crowd”, I recently noted in this Ushahidi blog post that we may need some qualifiers—namely bounded and unbounded crowdsourcing. In other words, the term “crowd” can mean a large group of people (unbounded crowdsourcing) or perhaps a specific group (bounded crowdsourcing). Unbounded crowdsourcing implies that the identity of individuals reporting the information is unknown whereas bounded crowdsourcing would describe a known group of individuals supplying information.

The term “allsourcing” represents a combination of bounded and unbounded crowdsourcing coupled with new “sourcing” technologies. An allsourcing approach would combined information supplied by known/official sources and unknown/unofficial sources using the Web, e-mail, SMS, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube etc. I think the future of crowdsourcing is allsourcing because allsourcing combines the strengths of both bounded and unbounded approaches while reducing the constraints inherent to each individual approach.

Let me explain. One main important advantage of unbounded crowdsourcing is the ability to collect information from unofficial sources. I consider this an advantage over bounded crowdsourcing since more information can be collected this way. The challenge of course is how to verify the validity of said information. Verifying information is by no means a new process, but unbounded crowdsourcing has the potential to generate a lot more information than bounded crowdsourcing since the former does not censor unofficial content. This presents a challenge.

At the same time, bounded crowdsourcing has the advantage of yielding reliable information since the reports are produced by known/official sources. However, bounded crowdsourcing is constrained to a relatively small number of individuals doing the reporting. Obviously, these individuals cannot be everywhere at the same time. But if we combined bounded and unbounded crowdsourcing, we would see an increase in (1) overall reporting, and (2) in the ability to validate reports from unknown sources.

The increased ability to validate information is due to the fact that official and unofficial sources can be triangulated when using an allsourcing approach. Given that official sources are considered trusted sources, any reports from unofficial sources that match official reports can be considered more reliable along with their associated sources. And so the combined allsourcing approach in effect enables the identification of new reliable sources even if the identify of these sources remains unknown.

Ushahidi is good example of an allsourcing platform. Organizations can use Ushahidi to capture both official and unofficial sources using all kinds of new sourcing technologies. Allsourcing is definitely something new so there’s still much to learn. I have a hunch that there is huge potential. Jeff Howe titled his famous article in Wired “The Rise of Crowdsourcing.” Will a future edition of Wired include an article on “The Rise of Allsourcing”?

Patrick Philippe Meier

10 responses to “Crisis Information and The End of Crowdsourcing

  1. Hi Patrick,

    I like very much and agree with your coinage of bounded and unbounded crowdsourcing.

    You end your post by noting that “Ushahidi is good example of an allsourcing platform.” I think Ushahidi is a platform that can be used for allsourcing, as you define it, but also for bounded crowdsourcing. It is not in and of itself biased towards either model, which you seem to suggest.

    Would you not agree?

  2. Hi Sanjana,

    Many thanks for your comment! Yes, the key here is that “allsourcing” platforms can be applied to bounded croudsourcing only, or unbounded crowdsourcing, or both. So you are correct in suggesting that allsourcing is not biased towards either model.

  3. I also think the bounded and unbounded crowdsourcing distinction is very useful. But surely these are both just types of crowdsourcing, and the new term allsourcing is not required.

    Can’t we just say that some examples of crowdsourcing are unbounded, some bounded, and some both? After all, there are many levels of crowdsourcing from logo competitions to Linux.

    The new sourcing technologies are what I consider to be crowdsourcing platforms. As you say they can be set up to give different levels of crowd access.

    With all that said, i can just see you publishing Allsourcing as the next hot crowd book!

    • Hi Philip, many thanks for your comment and question. Yes, we can stick with crowdsourcing and qualify as you just suggested. I’m perhaps a little partial to “allsourcing” because of the connotation that crowdsourcing typically evokes. When folks think about crowdsourcing, I don’t think they imagine bounded crowdsourcing but rather unbounded given the word “crowd”. And some folks may see “bounded crowdsourcing” as a bit of a contradiction. I also wanted to move beyond past references to Internet-based crowdsourcing plaforms and instead include all technologies, so the prefix “all” seemed like an appropriate choice.

      How about we co-author that next crowd book! :)

  4. These days whenever people seem to solicit opinions on Twitter they seem to preface it with the word crowdsourcing – if that’s all the term comes to mean to most people then we will need a new vocabulary!

    I only have one book in me right now, and it’s a guide to a small Spanish island. Once that’s done I’ll let you know :-)

  5. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails instigated a pretty impressive instance of (bounded) crowdsourcing. He made the raw footage shot professionally on a Nine Inch Nails tour available online. Fans self-organized to delegate and handle post-production; releasing a 2 hour HD, Dolby 5.1 sound mixed concert film on torrents and BluRay.

    Post-production is the most time-consuming and expensive aspect of live performance production. Irrespective of your opinion of the music, that’s a sterling example of crowdsourcing.

  6. Pingback: Citizens Net: Crowd-sourcing human rights violations? « ICT for Peacebuilding (ICT4Peace)

  7. Pingback: Demystifying Crowdsourcing: An Introduction to Non-Probability Sampling « iRevolution

  8. Pingback: From Caveman to Sufi Sheikh: Some Thoughts on Cognitive Surplus and Technology Deficits « iRevolution

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