Freesteel Blog » Crowdsourcing variations

Crowdsourcing variations

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010 at 10:13 am Written by:

There is litter on the streets.

If every person picked up one or two pieces of litter per week, then the city would be clean in a matter of months.

This is an application of crowd-sourcing.

Unfortunately it doesn’t happen.

Instead the Council, desirous of a clean city, publishes a job ad for two or three full time street sweepers, and then wait for a set of application forms to be spontaneously sent in by people (some of whom are qualified) with an effect that is equivalent to crowd-sourcing.

The Council subsequently hires its new employees from this pool of applicants, provides them each with a brush and cart, and sends them forth to clean the streets.

Unfortunately there are problems with the staff. The street carts are too heavy (or the staff are too lazy), the roads are too frightening, or the hard work of sweeping produces disabling back-pain by the sixth day.

But there is a way to avoid this.

Suppose the Council were to set aside a number of street sweeping carts for people to borrow whenever they liked in order that they try out the work for extended periods before entering into what may have become an unsuitable contractual arrangement.

Obviously there should be an understanding that those who pass this selection process will be offered one of the original employment positions.

But what if the Council doesn’t get round to promising that?

After all, if someone was willing to do the sweeping for a week unpaid, maybe they can do it for a second, or another volunteer could step forward. Perhaps people are willing to do the litter collecting in the streets they care about, like where they live or work.

This is looking a lot like the original schedule for crowd-source cleaning, which didn’t work. But it now depends on the quality of the sweeper carts. Maybe they use one of those diesel powered mini-scavenger trucks with brushes and vacuum tubes that’s fun to drive around. These carts might be expensive for the Council to buy and maintain, but isn’t it worth it for civic engagement and getting the streets clean without any troublesome employment regimes?

It is necessary to take an interest in the motivation of the players in any crowd-sourcing scheme. If it does work, then some motivation does exist and it is fruitful to discuss what form it is taking.

People will appear to volunteer to litter pick crowd-source-wise if they believe it is part of a realistic waged job application process, say.

The problem with too much self-directed practice before the selection for the position is that those who get through might think they know everything about what the job entails. They do not know their place in the organization as well as someone who has been hired off the street in the normal way, who knows they don’t know anything, and expects to get trained.

The crowd-source-wise applicant has had to teach himself, which is not always the best way for everyone and everything. There is a body of tricks in any trade. In some cases these take years to acquire.

To understand the elements of any crowd-sourcing application, one must address the following two questions:

(a) What motivates the participants?
(b) How do the participants get trained?

Example 1: Citizens can litter pick by hand whenever they like, but (a) they’re not motivated, and (b) society doesn’t really expect them to be.

Example 2: Application forms are submitted for employment as a litter picker, because (a) there are people who want a job that pays, and (b) there is feed-back from the application process, also interview counseling at the job centre, and so forth.

Example 3: Street sweeping devices are available for use by any volunteer and they are borrowed by people who (a) either see this as a job application process, or are willing to use a fun machine to tidy the places they live, but (b) the training has to be very brief and may even be inadequate.

Example 4: Wikipedia grows in quality and quantity, although (a) we don’t exactly know what motivates people, but since they were taking time to post useful stuff in newsgroups and blogs the motivation demonstrably existed, and (b) contributors observe their articles being used and re-edited and are able to interact in the discussion pages.

Example 5: OpenStreetMap grows in scale and quality, because (a) mapping is a fun activity, it is like doing art, plus (b) many people use maps very intensely and know exactly what they need to contain.

Example 6: ScraperWiki is attempting to crowd-source and crowd-maintain functioning code to take advantage of (a) the vast amount of abandonware many coders leave behind after they have solved their data process problem, and (b) pair programming (which has partly been implemented) could be one of the best ways for coders to actually learn their trade.

It is unfortunate that there are no manuals or study on how computer programmers actually pick up their skills.

1 Comment

  • 1. Greg replies at 28th October 2010, 5:53 pm :

    If we knew what make people tick. Then we would know what it would take to motivate people. Some of us are just motivated to do the best we can, others are not and would be perfectly happy letting the others do all the work. This is just the way it is. All we are is dust in the wind.

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