Longing for latitude

One of the interesting features of technologies is how it can bring people close together, in real life as well as in perception. Google has an interesting new feature called Google Latitude. Through this service you can show your location to your friends and of course see the location that your friends are sharing with you. Interesting feature is that the application has a fine grained way of setting your privacy in relation to the various friends that you have. This I think is a general direction you see in web 2.0 that more and more people are becoming concerned about privacy and about who really are your friends you are willing to share all. In the past I used an application called IYOUIT that was also capable of showing this like this. To me it was surprising how much feeling is involved in knowing precisely where your friends are.
location of friends

Surfing the beat

two-men.gifI came across this post from David Cohn about crowdsourcing beat journalism. Local journalist of course normally have their network within the area they publish about. But how much more interesting might this become if you know how to make this network much more involved in the news and each other.
The same, in a way, counts for policemen. Especially community policeman need to have a strong social network in order to receive the subtle but important Continue reading “Surfing the beat”

Citizen Journalism 2

They made it! The group of people from AssignmentZero I blogged about some time ago have their articles published on Wired. Though it is easy to see that it has been a mixed blessing in results it is also easy to see the enthusiasm people have in doing this. One of the conclusion they have reached is that a good balance or professionals and amateurs is crucial. The professionals know how to present news, the amateurs are everywhere where news may be found. Read more about it here.
Also, we have an example of this trend in the Netherlands. They recently published an ad in the newspaper “DAG” for citizen journalist to cover news from the “Tour de France”. I think that is an excellent combination of enthusiastic amateurs covering many locations with phone camera’s in combination with a professional editorial team. All sides win: the amateur have a great time while watching the tour with a missions and the newspaper gets wider coverage of the news.
Lot’s of people love producing instead of just consuming.

The oldest book

Imagine: the oldest book in the world (I think?) being digitized through crowdsourcing.
in 1637 in the Netherlands 22 man have translated the bible from the original texts to normal Dutch (they took 20 years for this). This was quite remarkable at the time since it was not normal to translate religious texts into a language that people could understand. This translation was so important and famous that it has influenced the dutch (written) language significantly.
This original translation has been changed during the centuries and some researchers would like to be able to compare the copies. But at this moment the original is only available in scanned pictures. The idea now is that many volunteers will type over text from the scanned pages. This work is organized by Nicoline van der Sijs. 1418 pages are easy to do when you can activate the many people that are interested in this work (not just from a religious perspective but definitely also from a language perspective).
Anybody willing to participate: nvdsijs@euronet.nl

Talent and Scarcity

Open Source, Wikipedia and others attract lots of people who spent lots of time in adding information and improvements. All for zilch, noppes, nada. At least financial terms…
Some think this is the way of the future. All new paradigms first attract the idealistic people. In the first days of the Internet commerce was simply not done. Flame wars should not be stopped by imposing rules and enforcement but by netiquette. Funny thing is that many of these idealistic first users also happen to be a bit anarchistic. This seems logical because these are the people that venture into the uncharted territories precisely because of the lack of rules there. I feel sympathetic to that. While reading the book of Yochai Bankler you get the feeling that we are on a new era of the altruistic society. I would love to believe this but I don’t buy it.
In 1982 Güth, Werner, Schmittberger, and Schwarze wrote an essay with the title: “An Experimental Analysis of Ultimatum Bargaining,” (Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 3:4 (December), page 367). In this they laid down a special version of economic game theory called the ultimatum game. The game goes like this:

There are two players, A and B. B gets 10 euro’s and can decide how to split the money. A can either accept the offer or reject the offer. If he accepts the offer he will get what he is offered and B keeps the rest of the money. If A rejects the offer both get zilch, noppes, nada.
This of course means that whatever A is offered, he will always be better of accepting the offer because when he rejects he gets nothing.

Funny thing is that when people are offered less than 2 euro (20%) they tend to refuse the offer and therefore lower their own earnings. With the help of MRI scans during this decision process it seems that we humans do this because we wish to punish the one that is unfair to us by too low an offer. This is interesting but what has this to do with open source software and altruistic people?
Talent is scarce. Very few people are capable of making a good video, few people are good at writing and even less are good at writing good on interesting topics. But a lot of people love to watch a good movie and read a good story and are willing to pay for it…. Hey, that sounds llike a business model…!
Because some are willing to pay for a good (say, reading a blog) either directly or by being exposed to advertising than there will be people that will start to write for money. But if some schmuck who can’t write can get paid than you as an excellent writer also want to be paid. Otherwise you will feel like a loser. It’s like a virus: once it starts spreading it will develop like an epidemic. And when there is a market there will always be somebody who will act as patient zero.
Now getting back to the ultimatum game. I think that when somebody is going to make money based on the work that you or I deliver, we want a fair share of the pie. And when we do not get it, we will stop contributing (and of course be miserable because we loved contributing. But that is the essence of the ultimatum game). As long as nobody was making any money it was ok. But when somebody is making money the definition of fairness changes. And like I said, when there is a market it will be serviced.
Jeff Howe from Wired recently wrote a blog about this: Digital Sharecropping: Mesh takes on Crowdsourcing. But in his view people are motivated mainly by “respect”. But I, based on the above, think that once the virus spread more and more (talented) people will ask for payment. And once they are getting paid it will be like a normal business.
A nice example of a new business model is Crowdspirit.org. Here users can brainstorm, develop test and recommend new electronic products. Once they are succesfull the creators get paid for the work they did.

The future workspace of journalism

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. Many will recognize this as the opening of Dickens his book “A tale of two cities”. Dickens meant the time of the french revolution with all the positive and negative turmoil. Looking how fast the landscape of work is changing I sometimes get the same idea (though luckily the “blood” is now virtual!). An interesting example of the change and turmoil is a site called AssignmentZero, a cooperation between Newassignment and Wired.
The idea of AssigmentZero is an attempt to do “open source journalism”. The idea is that an open community communicates about what would be interesting subjects, whom to interview, what are important questions and all other aspects relating to journalism. There is some leadership but there is also a lot of confusion, searching, irritation and of course some flames. It is intriguing to see how these people embark on a journey together to redefine how journalism works in a networked world. This is how they define their quest:

The investigation takes place in the open, not behind newsroom walls. Participation is voluntary; contributors are welcome from across the Web. The people getting, telling and vetting the story are a mix of professional journalists and members of the public — also known as citizen journalists. This is a model I describe as “pro-am.”

This mixing of professionals and the general public in order to make use of professional expertise and the open view of the general public can be an example for much more workspaces, like the police (where are the dangerous places) and city planning (creative ideas of the citizens combined with the expertise of city architects). There are a lot of challenges ahead in order to make this succeed. I think it will be worthwhile to follow this experiment.


One of the most interesting developments of the moment is I think Crowd-sourcing. In Crowd-sourcing you outsource work to un undefined number of people in an open call. Amazon for example has created a function called “Amazon Mechanical Turk“. The idea here is that tasks that humans can do easily (is this a picture of a woman or man?) but that are extremely hard for computers are outsourced to the public (and you get paid doing it). Interesting variants are for example the google image labeler where, in the form of a game, people have to guess the keywords for a picture. When both players fill in the same keyword you get points.
This has of course very little to do with the intelligence of crowds but capitalizes on the mass of people willing spend some of their time. For either some money, for fun or for eternal fame by reaching the high score.
Question is if this model is feasible in the long run. People work on Wikipedia and open source software since these are environments where everybody works for free. In the case that crowd-sourcing is used by companies than money will play a role. Qustion is whether the “gift economy” will hold in that case. And how much spare time is still available? People’s attention is the most important scarcity so in the end that usually means one has to pay for it (Google clearly saw this with their advertising model).
Recently there was an interesting discussion about this issue of scarcity and pay between Nicholas Carr (www.roughtype.com) and Yochai Benkler (the wealth of networks). Carr’s statement you can find here and the answer of Benkler your can find here. I will certainly get back to this argument.