Crowdsourcing? You mean work for free right?

A couple years ago I remember hearing about Life in a Day (2010), a feature length film made from video collected through Youtube. You can watch the film here.  Produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Kevin McDonald, it’s arguably the largest collaborative/crowdsourced documentary ever.  Users from all over the world submitted over 80,000 clips that were recorded on July the 24th, 2010 (supposedly). The film premiered at Sundance and is currently viewable online. I never did contribute any video, but Life in a Day serves as a worthy introduction to collaborative media and crowdsourcing.

Before we can really discuss Life in a Day, it’s necessary to define collaboration. In the Social Media Reader, Adam Hyde acknowledges the difficulty in doing so; “user-generated content and social media create the tendency for confusion between sharing and collaboration”(53). In other words, sharing content doesn’t necessarily equal collaboration. He does offer that collaboration “deemphasizes the tight content-author link.” On one hand, individual scenes of Life in a Day are not attributed to the people who sent the footage, however,Ridley Scott is given credit for “producing” the entire film.

Hyde also mentions Ophir Kutiel, an Israeli musician who aggregated various unrelated clips of musicians from Youtube and remixed them into new songs. Aggregation, however, doesn’t equate to collaboration either. Contributors must have unified intentional goals. Therefore, only musicians that intend for their music to be used in that way could be considered collaborators.

Collaboration may not even be the best way to describe this type of relationship. On the surface, it appears that these contributors are doing most of the work. Perhaps crowdsourcing is a more appropriate description for this type of workflow. Crowdsourcing is defined as “the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.” Wikpedia uses crowdsourcing rather successfully.

In my opinion, these models work better in artistic pursuits when there is little to no monetary compensation. It certainly lessens the probability of copyright issues when no one benefits financially. Who wants to work for free? Imagine the difficulty in compensating all 80,000 contributors to Life in a Day. If there was a monetary incentive to contribute to Wikipeidia articles, it’s likely there would be a staggering amount of unnecessary entries.

A closer look introduces a number of problems with crowdsourcing. Aside from the monetary concerns, the quality and value of each contribution can vary widely. While some videographers contributed HD footage, others contributed footage of a lesser quality.  Accuracy and accountability are questionable as well. It’s likely much of the footage sent was filmed before or after the 24th.

DesignCrowd, in contrast, has been able to capitalize on crowdsourcing by allowing people to outsource creative briefs.  Essentially, they act as a middleman between designers and customers. Many argue that this isn’t fair to the designers. They only get paid if the content they produce is chosen. Ultimately, this underscores the necessity of defining and making the distinction between collaboration and crowdsourcing. Hyde says it best:  There’s a delicate and significant line between “working with” and “being put to work by”(60).

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One Response to Crowdsourcing? You mean work for free right?

  1. When I was in the 6th grade, I published a poem for the first time in my life. My mom found an advertisement in the newspaper to submit a poem for a chance to win monetary prize. At the time I was flowing with artistic energy and was constantly drawing and writing stories. I mailed a typed copy of my poem to poetry.com and never thought twice of it afterwards. A couple of months later, I received a letter in the mail from Poetry.com. They were impressed with my poem and asked that I submit a short biography. They also asked if they could have permission to publish it. I was so excited when I read that letter. It was awesome that these people thought my poem was great and I was only 12 years old. My mom was so proud of me. She would brag to everyone she works with. Of course I provided permission and submitted a biography.

    Weeks later, I received another letter from Poetry.com, this time suggesting that I buy the book that has my published poem. Again I was thrilled and begged my mom to buy a copy. We didn’t stop to think that maybe they could have given the book to us for free but I thought it was maybe to pay for making the book. We bought our own copy and it was mailed to us a month later. The book was a collection of poems from people all around the world who submitted to Poetry.com. I was happy to see my poem as the very first one.

    A while later I received another letter, this time asking that I submit more poems. I wrote another one and bought another published copy. Somewhere out there I have two published poems and I am not making any money off of any one of them.

    Reading this article made me realized that I participated in crowdsourcing. It doesn’t really bother me that a company has (maybe still are) profited from my poems while I had to buy my copy. The idea of being a published writer was enough to get me excited and inspired to do something with my life. It might have been a problem for some people who wants to make money off of their published works but in this decade it has gotten easier to self-publish.

    If anyone is interested in reading my poem, it is here: http://www.poetry.com/poets/96081-Crystal%20Hollis. I had only recently discovered that they had automatically made an account for me. I kept it up and has managed the account. Poetry.com has certainly changed in ten years and I wouldn’t be surprised if they stopped asking for more free poems. Crowdsourcing is a great way to see the creative work of many people but it might be too unfair for some people who wants to make money off of their work.

    I know that if I ever had a successfully published fictional book and that a fan-base was developed, I would love to set up a system where fans write fan-fiction, I publish it, and we share a certain percentage of the cut. It would be like a YouTube for writing.

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