This week’s discussion focused on crowdsourcing and increasing public participation on the internet, including guest speaker Kari Ruth who discussed GiveMN and Minnesota Idea Open.  As with many of the topics we have discussed online and in class, I was interested in looking at the history of crowdsourcing:

History Of Crowdsourcing

  1. Did crowdsourcing exist before the internet?
  2. How has it changed with the internet?

I found a number of examples of crowdsourcing prior to the internet, two of my favorites are the Audubon Society asking the crowd to participate in a western hemisphere bird count since 1900 and the invention of margarine as a result of a French government’s contest in 1869

Looking at the history of crowdsourcing and how it is used today mirrors many other uses of the internet as compared to history, such as news reporting versus blogs and twitter.  Today, with the use of the internet, crowdsourcing is much faster and pulls from a wider audience, but the incentives, motivations, and results are largely the same.

For example, margarine was invented because of a contest with a monetary prize.  The inventors/chemists working on the project had a monetary incentive to participate.  This could be compared to the Minnesota Open Idea which included funding for the winning project.

On the other hand, the Audubon Society does not provide any monetary compensation but bird watching is a hobby for many people and the annual bird count allows bird enthusiasts to contribute to a larger mission while participating in an activity they enjoy.  This could be compared to crowdsourcing forums such as Wikipedia where people interested in a subject contribute for their own enjoyment and/or public good, without compensation.

In addition, an interesting article from the New York Times looks at how crowdsourcing is impacting our world today.

Diversity of Ideas or Race/EthnicityHands

After looking at the history of crowdsourcing, I then wondered about Kari Ruth’s question regarding diverse racial and ethnic participation in crowdsourcing projects.  Searching the internet on diversity and crowdsourcing returns a lot of results on the diversity of ideas that crowdsourcing can generate, but this notion of crowdsourcing only addresses reaching a wider audience and perhaps people who think differently about an issue or problem.  This type of diversity could include racial or ethnic diversity, but does not necessarily.

In addition, a lot of information is available on the digital divide and lower income or marginalized communities not having access to the internet, but not specifically how this impacts crowdsourcing participation and results.  This was part of the reason that Kari Ruth said she conducted “on the ground” engagement with communities for the Minnesota Open Idea projects, to bridge that digital divide.  If you look at the Pew research on internet use, however, minority communities are actively using the internet, more commonly on mobile devices or phones.  This could indicate a need to make crowdsourcing projects readily available on mobile devices and market the projects on those devices (e.g. text messages, Twitter).

On the other hand, if you look at crowdsourcing from a historical perspective, the issue is not necessarily one of access to the internet.  Historical reasons for participating in crowdsourcing centered on personal interest or monetary reward.  If minority or marginalized communities do not see an immediate interest or reward for participation in crowdsourcing projects then they might not participate even if internet access is available and the project is broadly advertised.  This also could be paralleled to town hall meetings on issues of public interest, the people that are impacted or care deeply about an issue are the people who show up and are vocal.  From this perspective, then it is not one of access to the internet but one of mobilizing a community (marginalized or not) to act on an issue for the public good or their own interest.

– By Katrina Mosser