Archives for posts with tag: Crowdsourcing

What would happen if a battalion of US marines found themselves transported back in time and forced to fight the Roman Empire? It was a question casually asked on Reddit, expertly answered by a Reddit member and now reportedly set to be turned into a Hollywood movie.

The writer, James Erwin (who, by day, is a financial industry software manual writer), provided a brief and detailed account of the first 7 days of the confrontation during his lunch break and quickly racked up thousands of comments. Afterwards he asked the community what he should do next and they responded by requesting a sub-reddit for the story to develop.

Erwin wrote the eighth day on the new subreddit, including some material from fans on how the story could develop. Shortly afterwards a whole culture emerged with fan fiction, artwork and logos all appearing. It wasn’t long before Hollywood came knocking and advised Erwin to stop posting any more updates on Reddit and instead work on a secret screenplay for a blockbuster movie – a deal he accepted. To read a more detailed account of Erwin’s story check out this Wired article.

Reddit is fertile soil for crowdsourced flash fiction to grow. Anyone can post a compelling question, anyone can write a response and anyone can chuck in suggestions. This method of collaborative ideation is also something that established writers have begun to capitalise on.

Writer Neil Gaiman recently took to Twitter to call out for suggestions for a new collection of stories. The writer has described the project as a ‘ping-pong’ match between himself and his fans: he will write the tales, but the ideas and illustrations will come from his Twitter following. Brett Easton Ellis also conducted a brainstorm via Twitter while thinking about a sequel to American Psycho.

This is a method of writing that could only realistically happen on the internet; a place where readers can ‘write back’ to the writer in real time. As such this is an entirely new type of authorship – one that is in tandem with the profound changes that we see as a result of the digital revolution. This is a writing that comes from the logic of the screen as opposed to that of the book – and also a writing that destabilises the notion of a text coming from one single author.

Is this all that new? Could this development echo Roland Barthes essay from 1967, ‘The Death of the Author’? Barthes argues that it is never really an author that speaks. That the author was just an invention which emerged into modern society after the middle ages alongside the advent of science and mathematics.

Barthes made a call for the primacy of the author to be removed, for the convenient anchor of authorial intention to be thrown from the ship. According to Barthes, writing is where subjectivity slips away, where identity is lost and language speaks, not the author:

“The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture.. [The authors] only power is to mix writings, to counter the ones with the others, in such a way as never to rest on any one of them. Did he wish to express himself, he ought at least to know that the inner ‘thing’ he thinks to ‘translate’ is itself only a ready-formed dictionary, its words only explainable through other words, and so on indefinitely.

Will we see the emergence of a new literature? Is the first classic collaborative piece of storytelling around the corner? What will it look like? Will it ever be ‘complete’, or will it be like Wikipedia – growing daily with thousands of contributors?

With the ominous SOPA act looming menacingly over the internet it is more important than ever to seek out and support progressive methods of getting artists and writers the money they deserve.

A stand-out service that I have joined is a social micropayment service called Flattr.  You create an account, choose a monthly amount of money to add to a pot (minimum 2 euros) and then click the Flattr button on webpages you like to share the money with the authors.

Kind of like tipping – the idea is simple, brilliant and completely in line with the ethos of the internet. I’ve recently noticed the Flattr button on a few websites – and I’ve started looking out for it on articles that I have enjoyed reading. It is a great way to reward bloggers for their hard work.

The service was started by Pirate Bay founder and spokesman Peter Sunde as a way to reward content creators for their work. Ambitions involve using the Flattr button to pay music and video creators as well as writers – Flattr has already teamed up with SoundCloud to include a Flattr button on their music player and there is a way to add a button to your Flickr account. YouTube are apparently keeping an interested eye on the project and Facebook are looking into delivering something similar. The service has already been used at conferences, enabling listeners to ‘Flattr’ speakers.

The Flattr team have already developed an app for Chrome that allows you to support Wikipedia by pressing a browser button whenever you have enjoyed or benefited from a Wikipedia article. As it is unofficial – they are keeping hold of the money raised and will deliver it the the Wikimedia foundation when enough money is raised. Also, when PayPal and Mastercard froze Wikileaks account – Flattr provided a way for supporters to send funds.

Flattr is a great project ran by people that really seem to value internet freedom over profit. It is a refreshing idea in an age of pay-walls and dangerous legislation, and it harks back to the democratic and collaborative origins of the internet. Money goes direct to the producer, the consumer decides what they consider a fair amount to pay and the Flattr button integrates snugly next to the Facebook ‘like’ button. It’s an idea I hope spreads – so sign up and start Flattr’ing.

With so much content out on the web, the need for curators has never been stronger. Fortunately, a new category of software has emerged to help make the process of curating information easy and fun. Here is part one of my list of some of the best new curation tools out there:

This website lets you create a magazine like page with content.

You log in, think of a topic, grab your url ( and begin adding article you find using your browsers ‘Scoop’ button.

The website does all the work of making the page look nice, but you can customize the style if you wish.

And, if you looking for help finding content,  Scoop It will give you a list of recommendations for your topic from around the web.

It has all the social media plugin’s you need, a daily email update on both your topic and other topics you follow and an easy way to explore new topics.

Check mine out here about the war on drugs, or this good one on new web tools.


Storify lets you gather content from a variety of social media platforms and order (and reorder) it all into a single stream.

It is an ideal platform for following a Twitter conversation and quickly pulling out good tweets, adding some comments, and slotting in any relevant media. It is also offers to send a notification to anyone mentioned in the Storify project.

Because of it’s ease of use and clever design, Storify is seeing vast adoption across the web. Popular website ReadWriteWeb use Storify to curate answer to their regular ‘Big Question’ from across Facebook, Twitter and their own comments section. It is also the ideal way to curate an event that has a strong Twitter engagement.

Pearl Tree’s

A Pearl Tree is an attractive and elegant way to display the relations between webpages of content. 

A pearl is an item of web content (YouTube video, webpage etc) which you link to other pearls which contain similar content to create a pearltree.

It’s ideal application would be as a visual guide to a topic, taking people through different networks of thought. For example – this pearltree explores the concept of the virtual currency of BitCoin.


Projeqt seems to be a very polished and stylish way of curating content. It’s functionality is quite basic and works in a similar way to a Powerpoint presentation.

You arrange your content (videos, pictures, text, RSS, Twitter) onto a series of slides and let the user glide through the story.

This platform would be ideal for showcasing a series of pictures with short comments in between. For a good example of the possibilities, check out this example by Brain Pickings.


Pinterest dubs itself as an online pinboard. You pin things you find to your own virtual pinboard page and find other people to connect to with similar interests.

The layout is both simple and appealing. It looks suitable for visual based curation and has seen early adoption within the craft and art worlds.

Promotionally, Pinterest is aimed at the casual user, and not so much the professional curator. Uses include planning a wedding, redecorating your home and sharing recipes.


I’ve been looking for a service like this for a while! Redux is a curation tool for video. Create your own channel and curate videos around your theme.

The user experience is pretty sleek. After clicking on a channel you are taken straight through to a full screen video with controls to move on to the next one or pause.

As a curator, you can add videos to pre-existing channels or create a channel of your own. The screen for curators isn’t quite as stylish as the viewer screen, but functional enough.

The EOL is aiming to be a single online resource cataloguing all life on this planet. Collaborating globally with many other collections, the site is working to provide a webpage for every single one of the 1.9 million species on the planet.

Each page will contain photo’s, sound-clips, videos, maps and articles written by experts and verified by the scientific community. There is also prominent ‘threat status’ section, letting the viewer know how endangered the species is.

On every page there is a dedicated community page which links to all discussions that relate to that particular species. Anyone can sign up and begin a discussion and all content is licensed under creative commons. It currently has 48,000 members who have already contributed towards the 634,000 images on the website.

The ultimate goal is to ‘make high-quality, well-organized information available on an unprecedented level.’

Nation of Neighbours provides a simple set of tools that enables citizens of a community to communicate with one another. It is a development of the existing Neighbourhood Watch scheme and allows citizens to share information on local crime, report suspicious activity and voice concerns about the community.

Any registered member can submit a report about their local area. A point based ranking system determines whether a member can file a report straight onto the website, or if their report has to go into a queue. Items in the queue are moderated by active members who have accumulated enough ‘stars’.

Any person can register their local community (US only at present). Members can receive alerts whenever there is a new report published that matches their alert criteria via email, text or RSS.  There is the option to publish local news and events, share photos and discuss community issues.

The hope of the project is that it will increase social participation and strengthen the sense of neighbourhood whilst helping local authorities keep in contact with the community and reduce crime. Plans for the future include an API that will enable Nation of Neighbours to be incorporated into existing community websites.

Although a tricky term – crowdsourcing can be defined as ‘enlisting a crowd of humans to help solve a problem defined by the system owners’.

Accordingly, there are four questions that are asked in a crowdsourcing project:

  • How to recruit and retain users?
  • What contributions can users make?
  • How to combine user contributions to solve the target problem?
  • How to evaluate users and their contributions?

Web based crowdsourcing projects benefit from a large amount of potential users, creative and sophisticated social tools, analytical software and easy user management.

(Taken from Crowdsourcing Systems on the World-Wide Web)

When a debate rages in the press and online, it can often be difficult to get hold of the bare facts and the basic arguments. Wranglr is a simple response to this problem.

Wranglr lets you see both the arguments for and the arguments against an idea side by side. Lines connect primary arguments to counter arguments so you can easily follow the flow of an idea. When you click on an argument you can see the point in more detail and click through to a link with further information. By logging in with your social network credentials, you can start a debate and contribute arguments to existing debates.

The current debate is on the alternative voting system, and the graphical representation of the arguments really helps someone gain a quick overview and familiarity with the arguments. The scope for debates is pretty large – I would like to see a debate asking if bankers are responsible for the financial crisis, or even an argument as epic as the existence of God! A quick scan through Quora would offer some interesting ideas.

I imagine the site will face some problems as it develops – particularly separating good arguments from rubbish opinions – and may require some form of moderator. But for people that want a quick digest of the facts, without any interfering noise, the site will probably be a success – and I’m sure the feature list will expand (although I hope the core simplicity remains).

For an introduction and some background by the creator click here.

Socrata – A variety of data sets with a social vibe.

Timetric – Timetric aggregates statistics from the the world’s leading sources of economic data

Google Public Data Explorer – Anyone can upload data to Google’s newly launched search service.

Infochimps – Find every dataset in the world. Upload datasets and point to others across the internet. Datasets are easily browsed and the metadata is contributed by users.

Datamarket – UN, World Bank, Eurostat, Gapminder and others all contribute to 13,000 dataests (both paid and free).

Data.Gov – American government data

Data.Gov.Uk – UK government data

Get The Data – A forum of data geeks helping you with your data queries.

Never one to be left behind when it comes to utilising new technologies, the American Army have fully jumped on board the smart phone app’s band wagon.

However, rather than hiring an expensive team of experts to create an arsenal of useful applications, they crowdsourced the task by running a competition.

The winners have been announced and, although most app’s are concerned with providing quick access to information, we can begin to see how the military might begin to start using this growing phenomenen.

‘Movement Projection’ & ‘Disaster Relief Operations’ are two app’s that demostrate the ability for improving real time information about the terrain.

‘Movement Projection’ will work out the best route for a soldier or convoy to take through an environment based on updated threats and obstacles.

‘Disaster Relief Operations’ is described as ‘a web-based data survey, dissemination and analysis tool for searching, editing and creating maps viewable on Google Earth and Google Maps.’

Although it is dubbed as a tool for helping with disaster relief efforts, it is easy to imagine its implementation when dealing with large scale hostile conflicts.

Imagine a Google map with possible ambush sites, surrounding fire-fights, up to date environmental intelligence and enemy units.

With shrinking military budgets it is becoming much more likely that a soldiers iPhone will be the tool to provide this battlefield information.

A smart-phone costs around $200 and the military mobile network access programming costs around $1000 – a big saving on the $3000 – $18,000 for current devices.

One developer has already built an app for helping snipers. BulletFlight uses the iPhone accelerometer to judge angles, accesses weather information to calculate wind-speed and can let a sniper listen to his favourite tunes instead of getting bored in the field.

Mental health is an area where smart-phones are playing a role. ‘Telehealth Mood Tracker’ is an app designed to record a soldiers mental health in real time.

Turning a soldiers iPhone into a field psychiatrist, troops would complete a combination of activities from describing their mood in colours to choosing key words to describe their feelings.

This info would be fed back to the command centre leading to early discovery of potential problems. Meaning that command can dispatch Domino’s pizza when a soldier begins to show early signs of mental trauma.

Although no finalised details of any roll out of militarised smart-phones across the US army has been announced, it is likely that the time will come soon.

And any contract will prove ludicrous for whichever phone manufacturer secures the deal. I’m sure it will be a furious fight between Google and Apple.

I would place my bets on Apple. Simply because of the success of Apple branding and marketing, iPhones are cooler and more desirable than any other handsets. So the promise of having your own miltary grade iPhone when you join up will be a major boom to recruitment drives.

Following on from my last post that looked into recent developments in crowdsourcing – here are some more reports and examples of crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourced Journalism – Imagining how the media will be reborn in 2022, trend watcher and futurist Ross Dawson has predicted that news investigation and reporting will be done by ‘hordes of amateurs overseen by professionals’.

Organising Aid Relief – Techcrunch have investigated case studies in crowdsourcing disaster relief. By ‘placing reporting power in the hands of people who might otherwise be victims’ technology is allowing armchair disaster relief experts to work with people on the ground to help build important communication channels.

In Haiti, mass collaboration enabled to provide a better map of the disaster zone than the US department of defense (and at a fraction of the cost). In any area where modern communication channels exist, there is the possibility for this form of organisation.

New Opensource Software – All Our Ideas is a new free platform that has been designed to harness the power of crowdsourcing. It cleverly combines a structured questionnaire with the added ability for a respondent to suggest new ideas. As crowdsourcing in the digital age is all about combining the benefits of quantitative research with the benefits of qualitative research, I reckon this software will be the first example of many new platforms to come.

Crowdsourcing the Truth – Truth Squad was an experiment that tested whether crowdsourcing can be used to fact-check claims made in the media and by politicians. After a discussion and voting by contributors to a website, the quote or claim in question is assessed by a panel of judges who then weigh up the evidence and make a verdict. Despite low publicity the experiment was a success and showed the crowds eagerness to put claims to the test. I expect (and hope) this to become a major new movement within crowdsourcing.

Collecting Sounds – Asking “What does Britain sound like?” the British Library is using crowdsourcing to collect and catalogue sound samples from around the country. Working with social sound recording service Audioboo, the library is asking people to record the sound of traffic, town centres or anything else around where they live. It is anticipated that over 10,000 samples will be created to generate a sound map of Britain. More details here.

Over halfway through a year which has seen the biggest rise in crowdsourcing solutions, it seems that the trend is set to continue. What seems to be the most important observation to make is the increasing use of methods to curate, filter or control the input from the crowd.


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