Describe now, define later – a better way to understand Life 2.0

Posted: September 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Civic engagement, crowdsourcing, Open Government | 1 Comment »

When I venture into new arenas – social media, crowdsourcing, online engagement –  I’m fed by discussions with people who are doing this work. But, too often, the conversation gets bogged down by arguments about definitions.

For instance, in a chat about crowdsourcing recently, someone offered online commenting on government regulations as an example, then someone else – it might have been me – almost derailed the conversation by asking whether commenting really counted as “crowdsourcing”.

The problem: the person who’s just run a rule-making process that received thousands of comments knows what she did, how participants responded, what seemed to work, what fell short. But she – and all the rest of us – are clueless about whether this really is crowdsourcing.

In general: when we’re describing an experience or process we’ve experienced, we know what we’re talking about. But when we debate whether this experience is an example of crowdsourcing, we don’t.

Bold claim on my part, I know. And, one day, we’ll be able to agree, quickly, on whether my friend’s process was crowdsourcing, or collective intelligence, or prediction markets, crowd-storming, or peer production or something else entirely.

Why? We’ll, collectively, have more experience, and we’ll have come to (some) agreement on who the authorities are, and there’ll be some benefit to the definitions.

But today we’re still groping, learning what’s been done, identifying new combinations that haven’t yet been tried but look promising.

In effect, we’re crowdsourcing the definition of  “crowdsourcing”

(And if you’re thinking that this advice applies to discussion about “social media”, “Gov2.0”, and “online engagement” as well, you’ve got my point exactly.)


One Comment on “Describe now, define later – a better way to understand Life 2.0”

  1. 1 Beth Offenbacker said at 3:13 pm on September 18th, 2010:

    Great post, Chris; I agree completely. I think the definition is changing due to practice. Whereas ‘traditional’ crowdsourcing is about voting – quantitative measures of what’s popular (even the “Like” button on FB), I see crowdsourcing also morphing into qualitative discussions. We don’t have to have a ‘count’ of something per se to come to an agreement.

    What I’d like to see is some technology that parses qualitative data without a lot of the post event coding that makes it tedious (maybe like a souped-up word cloud? / but better). I’m hoping there will be just as much emphasis on qualitative outcomes as the quantitative ones down the road.


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