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.

  • http://www.ddmcd.com Dennis McDonald

    This is really interesting and seems to point out that such efforts need to be managed. Is anyone surprised at that? It also reminds me of what happens whenever a volunteer effort among geographically distributed individuals needs to be coordinated. Usually a small core of individuals emerges who take it upon themselves to shoulder the burden of leadership and coordination. With today’s systems, though, the numbers of people and decisions can be increased by orders of magntude, and this increases the likleihood of people veering off in the wrong direction; this in turn increases the need for oversight and management.

  • http://www.ddmcd.com Dennis McDonald

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