What: The rallying of massive decentralized and often anonymous effort through internet appeal, often (and controversially) called “crowdsourcing.” The term, a blend of “crowd” and “outsourcing,” was coined by Wired reporter Jeff Howe in the June 2006 article “The Rise of Crowdsourcing”.
Why: As escribitionists like myself often note, neologisms come and go, and more’s the better: If I never hear the portmanteau words staycation, glocalization, and McJob again, I will die a happier man. But some stick around, and we become better for it. In 2006, Wired described a trend that needed naming, because it fundamentally shifted the nature of work. At least until the price of fresh water surpasses it, the cost of labor will always be the most important economic reality on the planet. A project, no matter how noble, requires effort that may not be available for a price that a coordinator can meet. Take, for example, the search for extraterrestrial life in the universe. There are two ways we could get the computing power to scan the heavens: pay for more dedicated radio-telescope analysis systems than we could afford, or ask everyone in the world to help. As the internet went stratospheric, it became possible to reach a large enough audience that collaborators could investigate a government scandal, map the world, or find survivors of a natural disaster. Through controlled applications of chaos theory and Warhol’s law, everyone is now a resource for everyone.
Impact: By changing how work works, crowdsourcing has given us a serious question: what if the price of labor is zero? Don’t we as a society need people to be paid for their endeavors? The answer, I think, is that sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. Let’s take encyclopedias: Is Encyclopedia Britannica hurt by the existence of Wikipedia? Perhaps, but as long as the expectation of crowdsourced quality is suspect, those who are paid to work will be more respected than those who are not. The more interesting question, then, is are we raising a generation of people who hold that ideal? If people want creativity without lag time, answers without expertise, and fundraising without banks, then crowdsourcing will take root. We will become a nation of people expecting everything delivered by strangers at the touch of a button. Maybe we already are.
Personal Connection: If there’s a person who’s more of a sucker for crowdsourced projects, I haven’t met them. I’m an admin on Wikipedia, a contributor to crowdsourced anthologies, and an advocate of microfinance. I’ve started an entire puzzle website for Wired (there’s that magazine again) based on the principle that puzzle people want to tell puzzle people about puzzle things. When a project like the3six5—365 bloggers, 365 essays, 365 days—asks me to join the fun, I can’t resist. I don’t want to be part of something bigger than me; I want to be part of everything bigger than me. So, if you’d like my help with something, all you have to do is get a thousand other people to help first. Then I’m all yours.
Other Contenders: retronym, a neologism defining neologisms forced to exist due to the creation of later phrases, like “black-and-white TV,” “acoustic guitar,” “d6,” and my favorite, “meatspace”; Keyshawning, cashiering a football player after repeated abuses, named for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ treatment of malcontented receiver Keyshawn Johnson; two keepers from pop songs, unboyfriendable from The Magnetic Fields’ “All My Little Words” and interactiveodular from Raffi’s “Banana Phone”; Santorum, a sexual term that Stranger columnist Dan Savage named for anti-homosexual Congressman Rick Santorum that… well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.