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Crowdsourcing: From Ancient Babylon to Wikipedia

From Ancient Babylon to WikipediaJimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, talks to the San Francisco Chronicle today to discuss of his company's relocation from Florida to the Bay Area. He uses the interview as an occasion to complain about the term crowdsourcing. (If you're unfamiliar with the idea, our BNET Briefing defines it: "the basic idea is to tap into the collective intelligence of the public at large to complete business-related tasks that a company would normally either perform itself or outsource to a third-party provider.") Wales opines:

One of my rants is against the term "crowdsourcing," which I think is a vile, vile way of looking at that world. This idea that a good business model is to get the public to do your work for free - that's just crazy. It disrespects the people. It's like you're trying to trick them into doing work for free. What you're really in the business of is providing a nice place for people to come and do what they want to do.
And people it seems really like to give out advice. Seth Roberts, a professor of psychology at the University of California Berkeley, uses his blog today to bring home this point by posting this example of ancient Babylonian crowdsourcing recorded by Herodotus:
They have no physicians, but when a man is ill, they lay him in the public square, and the passers-by come up to him, and if they have ever had his disease themselves or have known any one who has suffered from it, they give him advice, recommending him to do whatever they found good in their own case, or in the case known to them...
Crowdsourcing does indeed harness a powerful (and seemingly primal) force, as Roberts illustrates. But Wales has a point too (and one the likes of Facebook might do well to heed) . Crowdsourcing only works when users are doing something they like to do. Think of it as a way to "trick" users into something (say advertise products they are less than thrilled about) and you might be in for a less than positive reaction.

(Image of hanging gardens of Babylon by Carla216, CC 2.0)

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