Here’s an old column I’ve meant to comment on for a while. Dan Woods’s Jargon Spy is almost always a good read, and his take on The Myth of Crowdsourcing punctures some of the more cherished notions of social media and its power to create. He goes right for the granddaddy of them all:
Wikipedia seems like a good example of a crowd of people who have created a great resource. But at a conference last year I asked Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales about how articles were created. He said that the vast majority are the product of a motivated individual. After articles are created, they are curated–corrected, improved and extended–by many different people. Some articles are indeed group creations that evolved out of a sentence or two. But if you took away all of the articles that were individual creations, Wikipedia would have very little left.
Human innovation is the history of porting “applications” from one language, media, platform, or form factor to another. In tech, we’ve moved app after app from pen and paper, to microcomputers, to PCs, and now to mobile. Crowdsourcing “innovates” in much the same way, leveraging an existing paradigm but not really creating one.
After all, Wikipedia is just another manifestation of an encyclopedia. And who do we credit for that, the classic editions of the Encyclopædia Britannica, which were inspired by Diderot’s Encyclopédie, which built on Chamber’s Cyclopedia, and so on, and so on..?