Jay’s lessons on news “crowdsourcing”

by Mathew on October 16, 2007 · 2 comments

I’ve been meaning to get to this for days now, but I wanted to post about Jay Rosen’s lessons from Assignment Zero, the “crowdsourcing” journalism experiment he put together between his NewAssignment project and Wired magazine, with help from a team of people that included Dave “Digi-Dave” Cohn and Tish Grier. On a related note, Dave has also been working with Jeff Jarvis on the Networked Journalism mini-conference Jeff just finished putting together, and has a list of interviews with people who are involved in what might broadly be called social media in one way or another.

Among other things, Jeff admits that the trend story that Assignment Zero chose to focus its efforts on — the impact of crowdsourcing itself, and other “open source” approaches to media — was a little too “meta” and a little too big and subjective for the first project. And he quotes from Derek Powazek’s advice in his review of Assignment Zero lessons (which is here):

“Start with clear, simple tasks. This isn’t because the crowd can’t handle complicated ones – they can – it’s because they haven’t decided if it’s worth doing them for you yet.

People won’t do what you say because you just told them to. You have to inspire them to want to participate.”

Many of the issues that came up with Assignment Zero (and Wired writer Jeff Howe has his own take on the lessons here and here) didn’t have to do with the idea or even the execution so much as the co-ordination of volunteers and contributors. Finding out what people’s motivations are, how much they can do, what they want to do, and then dividing the work up amongst them is hard, Jay says.

“Dividing up the work into tasks people can and will do is among the trickiest decisions the project will have. Expectations have to be extremely clear or a crowd will generate a limitless number of honest misunderstandings.”

One of the potential solutions Jay talks about is having what the open-source movement calls “super-contributors,” whose job it is to help find and co-ordinate other contributors. While he says Assignment Zero did not “crack this case,” Jay told me that he thinks Off The Bus — the networked journalism project that NewAssignment is working on with The Huffington Post — is closer to a solution.

Assignment Zero and Off The Bus co-ordinator Amanda Michel writes a bit about participation levels here, and gives an example of the work Off The Bus is doing with “citizen journalists” here.

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