Photo from the New York Times


I’ve never been big on crowds (or traffic for that matter – just ask my wife), but I am a big fan of crowdsourcing.  In my view, crowdsourcing has the power to catalyze very significant and positive change in the way society and business works.  There has been a great deal written about this subject in the few short years since Jeff Howe first coined the term in his 2006 Wired Magazine article “The Rise of Crowdsourcing,” including a great book by Jeff himself (“CrowdSourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business“), James Surowiecki’s seminal “The Wisdom of Crowds,” Don Tapscott’s “Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything,” and some of the work done on one of my particular fascinations, prediction markets.

This is an area I follow (both out of curiosity and as an investment focus), and a topic I look forward to writing more about at some point, but what brings it to mind today is the juxtaposition of two recent events.

Last night crowdsourcing industry group Crowdsortium hosted an excellent MeetUp at Microsoft’s NERD in Cambridge which featured a keynote by Karim R. Lakhani of Harvard Business School, moderation by Jim Savage of Longworth Venture Partners, and discussion by Jeff Howe who as I mentioned coined the term, Dwayne Spradlin, CEO of Innocentive, Daniel Sullivan, CEO of Appswell, and Doron Reuveni, CEO of uTest.  It was a great conversation and I learned quite a bit.

And earlier this week, the New York Times published an excellent story indirectly about the spectacular Getty Images photograph above (“Upending Anonymity, These Days the Web Unmasks Everyone“).  Not only is the photograph an absolutely mesmerizing example of the power of the photographic medium, but the story behind it is fascinating.  The photographer, Rich Lam, was apparently being jostled by riot police in Vancouver in the chaos immediately following the Stanley Cup finals (rioting about hockey? really?), and he rifled off a few quick shots without paying too much attention to what he had captured.  When he got home and went through the images, he was surprised to see this one and he published it.  As the New York Times describes it:

…a worldwide dragnet of sorts ensued to identify the “kissing couple.” Within a day, the couple’s relatives had tipped off news Web sites to their identities, and there they were, Monday, on the “Today” show: Scott Jones and Alex Thomas, the latest proof that thanks to the Internet, every day could be a day that will be remembered around the world.

Apparently Scot Jones was trying to comfort his girlfriend Alex Thomas, who had just been knocked down by riot police.

The New York Times story is about how, despite early concerns that the internet was a dangerously anonymous environment (captured perfectly by the celebrated 1993 New Yorker cartoon), it is turning out that the internet may, in fact, know you are a dog, or at least be able to figure it out really quickly.

I am still not sure where I come out on many of the issues involved here.  Internet and identity security in general are areas of concern for me; I have posted a couple of times about my concerns that we are not investing enough in data security in this country.  And I worry about the effect of all this (increasingly mobile) technology has on everyone (e.g. Linda Stone’s writings about “continuous partial attention syndrome”), particularly kids with issues like cyber-bullying, humiliation caused by the escape of private photos taken in immature and poor judgement, the impossibility of removing embarrassing material from potential employers’ eyes and the like.

But in the meantime while I figure all that out, I will remain in awe of the incredible potential for crowdsourced good that all this technology represents, and be hopeful that we will see some beneficial innovations in the years to come.  I will be watching, voting and clicking with interest.

Speak Your Mind


Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.