Some of you may have read — either here or elsewhere — about one of the social-media projects that I’ve been involved with at the Globe, a joint venture with the Dominion Institute known as the Public Policy Wiki. We started the wiki in January, as a way of soliciting input from concerned Canadians about a range of public policy issues, and the first issue we launched with was the federal budget. Almost a thousand people signed up in a matter of two weeks, and we got dozens of excellent “briefing note”-style policy proposals submitted, commented on, voted on and promoted in the forums. On the day the budget was released, we took the two most popular proposals and sent them to the Finance Minister in Ottawa.
The photo that captured the incredible survival of the passengers of U.S. Airways Flight 1549, a shot of passengers standing on the wing in the middle of the Hudson River and sitting in an inflatable life raft, was taken by a guy named Janis Krums, who was on the ferry that was going to pick up the stranded passengers and snapped the pic with his iPhone. Within seconds, it was on Twitter, and within a matter of hours it had been viewed by almost a hundred thousand people (I reloaded the Flickr page several times, waiting about two seconds between clicks, and the number of views went up by 50 or 60 each time).
The always excellent Jason Kottke has a post up that got me thinking about the “broken windows” theory and how it applies to online communities. The theory — articulated in this piece from The Atlantic in 1982 — states that crime and bad behaviour of various kinds tends to proliferate where there are obvious signs of neglect, such as broken windows. In other words, if people perceive that no one cares or is looking after a place, the odds of vandalism increase, and The Economist has some hard evidence to back up the theory. The obvious corollary is to online communities or group discussions, Kottke argues (and I agree). As he puts it:
Andy Baio, otherwise known as Waxy (I don’t know why) is an independent journalist and programmer who lives in Oregon, and in addition to maintaining one of the most interesting link blogs on the planet he periodically takes on research projects — including an exhaustive investigation of all 300 or so samples used in the new Girl Talk album. In order to compile that data, he used Amazon’s “crowd-sourcing” engine known as the Mechanical Turk, and became fascinated by the idea that hundreds of people were spending their time doing small research jobs for him anonymously through the service. So he posted a request that Turkers take a photo of themselves holding a piece of paper, with the reason why they like to Turk. The results? Photos of 30 people, 10 women and 20 men, mostly young and white. Some Turk for the money, some for the “lulz” (or laughs), some just because they are bored. Thanks, Waxy.
There are plenty of efforts at “citizen journalism” underway in various places, including CNN’s iReport and Vancouver-based NowPublic, but Spot.us is a little different: In this case, the citizens aren’t the ones doing the actual reporting (although they can potentially do so under Spot’s model). Instead, they’re being asked to finance the reporting, by contributing to a kind of virtual tip jar. Founder David Cohn is a tireless young journalist who has been active with several leading citizen-journalism experiments, including Jay Rosen’s NewAssignment.net and the Off The Bus election-reporting joint venture with Huffington Post. But is “crowdfunding” really a viable model for journalism?