The Media Builds a Bike Lane


The last time I was crowd-surfing was at Warped Tour a couple years ago. I was struck by the kindness and solidarity of the 2,000-odd sweaty revelers. When a great circle pit erupted in front of my crowd-surf flight-plan I was gently let down at the edge. When everything I owned spilled out of my pockets, those who carried me were quick to help recover my stuff.

I’ve heard crowd-sourcing media content is a lot like crowd surfing at a concert. Just as crowd-surfing supports the scrawny bodies of 16-years-old to occupationally frustrated security at the front of the stage, crowd sourcing supports the pretentious ideas of unemployed 26-year-old to occupationally frustrated editors at  The Guardian.

After years of show us what we are told we want, the one-way highway that was the media of old has built us bike lane going the opposite way. For example, Conan created a whole show a week ago out of clips sent in from viewers.

CNN will occasionally allow website viewers to select what video clip is played on the TV news report. Recently they’ve also made expanding use of their iReport feature, which allows anyone to upload newsworthy media.

Sometimes the crowdsourcing is subtler, like the recursive scenario of searching to word “crowd source” on Google.  All the search results are pulled from other sources and the order of the list is partially determined by crow sourced user data on the websites themselves. Just Googling crowdsourcing is crowdsourcing in action.

In the subtle arena, there isn’t a lot of room for creative feedback. But in the first, more direct approaches of crowdsourcing we could see more individualized, unique content. While the Conan episode was unprecedented in user content, it was all based on his previously aired show and everyone operated within that boundary.

I would bet that in the near future of crowdsourcing we see a shift from viewers choosing predefined to content towards users creating and selecting the content. It’s cheaper and easier for a show’s producer and it pulls viewers in.

Wikipedia stands as a shining beacon of crowd-sourced potential. While not without faults, it provides both a constantly expanding pool of current information and an easy punchline for every high school English teacher going over the research paper rubric.

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