Crowdsourcing is a very rapidly growing offshoot of social media. Most people think of crowdsourcing in terms of raising money for projects and such. In reality, crowdsourcing expands far beyond the realm of start-up funding.
Now that everyone is connected using mobile devices and social media, the question becomes, “What can we do with those connections?” Application developers are taking this question very seriously by creating new opportunities for people to share information.
Well, sharing isn’t exactly the correct word. The new apps are really trying to utilize shared data for a greater purpose. For example, mobile apps like Sunshine and Weendy attempt to supplement typical weather forecasts with real-time information collected from mobile devices. While WeatherBug can tell you today’s weather at Myrtle Beach is going to be sunny with a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms later in the day, the apps aggregate information from mobile users up and down the Grand Strand to tell others exactly where the rain is falling and who’s still working on their tan.
In theory, these crowdsourcing apps sound like a wonderful idea. Nothing is better than a personal reference when trying to get information. If someone is already at a location or participating in an activity, it just makes sense to share that experience with the rest of us. How else are we going to plan our outings and take advantage of opportunities we might otherwise miss? Plus, it’s all entirely seamless, right? Since everyone has a phone already, how difficult is it to download the app and contribute to the greater good?
The privacy issue starts coming into play at this point. In order to collect data from a large population of mobile users, each of those mobile users must be willing to continuously broadcast their position along with whatever data they are collecting. Many folks like the idea of keeping a record of their location and all the bathrooms that they’ve visited in the last six months. For me, not so much. I’m not a big fan of being tracked. Personally, I keep location services turned off. Granted, this doesn’t necessarily stop law enforcement. However, if a warrant is involved, I’m probably on my way to getting what I deserve. If warrant isn’t involved, well, there’s not much I can do about that anyway.
A second issue with assembling a broad population of mobile users is simply having a large population of people. Have you noticed that most of these apps assume a high population density like New York or California, you know, where everyone is packed together like Star Trek’s The Mark of Gideon. Marketing materials for these apps show dots almost completely covering a map, providing enough information for histograms, contour lines and more. But now tell me exactly how a wireless mapping app like OpenSignal is going to work in McDuffie County? What happens once you get out of range of the McDonald’s? Likewise, the NetAtmo coverage map looks great in Paris. Have you taken a look at the one for Lincolnton? Or Waynesboro?
Okay, enough with the Whine Line… back to some technological truth. It’s an undeniable statement that the development of crowdsourcing apps is a natural next step after social media. Like I said before, “How can we use these connections?” Developers really don’t know to what extent users will share data and participate in a community. As a result, most apps seem to be in the mode of throwing stuff out there and seeing what will stick.
Apps like Waze share real-time traffic information. Grasswire is a community-driven service that runs fact checking on news stories. iNaturalist and eBird request community support to identify wildlife. Stereopublic asks users to map quiet spots in the city and record 30 seconds of ambient sound. In a similar vein, Placemeter wants the community to mount video cameras everywhere so they can quantify traffic patterns.
All of these apps share one common component — they all Microtask. Microtasking is the action of dividing a large job into small parts and distributing those parts to many users over the internet. In the case of crowdsourcing apps, the users are all tasked with collecting data. Other microtasking sites are popping up all over the internet. One that I find interesting is Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Amazon bills it as a marketplace for work, a place to access an on-demand, scalable workforce. Users simply upload a list of tasks to accomplish and a payment for each tasks, and other users perform the tasks. Reviews indicate the service works great for items like tagging images or SEO content. No doubt other uses will emerge as microtasking sites continue to evolve.
Perhaps one week, I’ll microtask the writing of Augusta Tek. That should be fun. ;-)