Of Crowdsourcing and Cassandras

different people's hands on a tree trunk representing working together to accomplish a shared goal

Reupping this post I wrote back in 2009 about crowdsourcing, because my larger point is, I think, even more relevant in 2024.

Jeff Howe, who is credited with coining the term “Crowdsourcing,” was the opening keynoter at the 2009 ASAE Technology Conference, where he mad the point that no matter how smart the people around you are, most of the smartest people work somewhere else.

Crowdsourcing, he went on to explain is a result of:

the perfect storm of the amateur renaissance, the open source revolution, democratization of production, and the rise of online community.

As I wrote at the time:

AND THAT’S ALL LOVELY, really it is. And it’s happening whether we want it to or not, in our new world where the locus of community is less about geography or biological relationship than it is about affinity. And most people have a desire to create something. But I have to wonder: What about the people who lose not only their jobs, but their careers? 

Eventually you’re the last guy making buggy whips and then the industry folds because no one needs buggy whips anymore.

At the time, I was worried that Howe had no answer, which then – and now – seems to me to be the crux of the matter: There are some highly technical skills that probably can’t be crowdsourced. But if there’s always someone willing to do what I do for free, then what?

In an era of gig work and generative AI, this only seems more pressing.

On the gig work front, there are multiple problems. Most significantly, the workers themselves are often exploited, with no OSHA protections or wage guarantees. But also, have you noticed that your rideshares are a LOT more expensive lately? Because the model may always have been to push the cab companies out of business by offering the service WAY below actual cost and then, once cab companies were disempowered and consumers were accustomed to summoning rides via an app rather than a raised arm or whistle, to jack up the price. Which revenue, may I remind you, is NOT necessarily going to the workers. “Disruption” at work, and it may be coming for the profession or industry your association serves, particularly with the rise of generative AI.

Speaking of, those services are ALSO being offered below cost – even, in many cases, for free. And we’re starting to see professions being disrupted – copy writers, technical writers, bookkeepers, data analysts, paralegals (Pew has done a VERY detailed analysis of professions, and the demographics of the people in them, most at risk). What happens when you’ve fired all your marketing coordinators because you can get ChatGPT to do that work for you for free? One, something tells me ChatGPT will no longer BE free. Also, what’s then the on-ramp for becoming tomorrow’s Chief Marketing Officer?

I don’t have any answers either, but I think it’s a conversation that needs to be engaged.

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

One thought on “Of Crowdsourcing and Cassandras”

  • REALLY good point, and something I wonder about frequently. I used to be a freelance writer. Now I still write, but I don't get paid for it. There are other non-cash incentives to writing for free, but you can't support yourself or your kids on links, blog page views or more Twitter followers.

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