Sourcing crowdsourcing

Since I mentioned the word “crowdsourcing” in a post a few days ago, maybe this is a good time to talk about it a bit. The basic concept behind crowdsourcing — solving a substantial intellectual problem by asking a large amorphous group of people to contribute — is quite old, dating at least back to the six million volunteer contributed submissions by the citizenry to the Oxford English Dictionary starting in 1857.

But suppose we restrict the term “crowdsourcing” to refer only to internet-enabled collaborations. Notable examples include the SETI project and, Mechanical Turk, and, more recently, Foldit.

But I would argue that the granddaddy of them all is the Web itself. The thing that Ted Nelson hated most about Tim Berners Lee’s version of the Web was its haphazardness. Rather than orderly two-way links (as in Nelson’s original Xanadu concept), Berners-Lee allowed just for one-way links, with no enforcement policy whatsoever — a link could simply go nowhere. If you clicked on such a link, you would be told by your browser that the page does not exist (and you still are to this day).

But that, it turned out, was precisely the strength of Berners-Lee’s concept. Any schmo could put up a web page and start adding links to any other web page. With nobody overseeing the process, people just organized things for themselves. Ordinary members of public became the weavers of a virally expanding enterprise of Web-building.

You could say that the creation of the Web itself was the first internet crowdsourcing project.

Leave a Reply