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Meeting Recap: Crowdsourcing
2013, Q1 (August 08, 2013)
Meeting Recap

Holly Fredericksen DeWitt
Holly Fredericksen DeWitt
By Holly Fredericksen Dewitt, Volunteer Writer

During the February Chapter meeting, Rick Sapir presented “Crowdsourcing”. He discussed some common examples of crowdsourcing and the implications it has for the technical writing community.

What is Crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing occurs when the "crowd" is used to generate content traditionally generated by an individual or specific suppliers. Rick discussed four types of crowdsourcing:

  • Distributed Computing - This type of crowdsourcing involves pooling surplus computer processing power from the owners of personal computers for the sake of a common good, such as providing funding for clean water, the clean energy project, fighting malaria and other illnesses, etc. The World Community Grid is an excellent example of distributed computing, and one that is rapidly gaining attention.

  • Ratings and Voting - When users critique the content they view by rating or voting on its quality, another type of crowdsourcing occurs. The popular news site reddit.com, for instance, allows readers to rate the articles posted on the site. The article’s position on the page depends on its ratings, with higher ratings meaning a higher placement.

  • Financial - Websites that rely on financial crowdsourcing allow users to pool their finances in order to accomplish specified objectives. One such site, kickstarter.com, features projects that people pitch to the site. Users can then choose to fund whatever projects they find interesting and would like to see come to fruition.

  • Crowd Generated Content - This type of crowdsourcing refers to written work that could be created by anyone in the public. Wikipedia is perhaps one of the best known examples of crowd generated content because the articles do not have to be written by credible experts in the field. Rather, they can be generated by virtually anyone possessing a personal computer who has an interest in posting on the site. This is not to say that Wikipedia and other sites featuring crowd generated content go un-monitored: rather, they are kept under a close watch so that the articles that appear are as accurate, politically correct, and professional as possible.

Implications for Technical Writers

While there can be a fear among writers that crowdsourcing becomes so extreme that it results in hijacking a site as the result of popular opinion, there are also many positive attributes of crowdsourcing that are worth noting. Thanks to the development of Google translate, for instance, users can now localize their apps by translating content into any language they choose. Crowdsourcing also allows for timely review and feedback, creating an innovative dialogue between reader and writer.

Jeff Howe, Wired magazine writer and author of the book Crowdsourcing, sums it up well with his prophetic statement: “The amount of knowledge and talent dispersed among the human race has always outstripped our capacity to harness it. Crowdsourcing corrects that—but in doing so, it also unleashes the forces of creative destruction.”

For better or worse, it looks like crowdsourcing is here to stay.

Holly Fredericksen DeWitt is a volunteer writer and former high school English teacher. She is beginning a technical writing program this fall with the hopes of pursuing a career as a technical writer. Holly can be reached at hollyfredericksen at gmail dot com. End of article.

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