Citizens of the Web: Wikipedia, Crowdsourcing, and the Amateur

In the Swartz reading, we get a brief overview of Wikipedia’s history, which can be described as “just like any other project: a small group of colleagues working together toward a common goal”. However, what is remarkable about the creation and contributions to the online encyclopedia is that it was the “world’s largest encyclopedia in four years for free”. Edit after edit, Wikipedia pages evolve in terms of having more and better sources, getting typos fixed up, and being organized into more relative categories. -And, again, it is small groups of people working together in different areas of “expertise” to get it done and monitor the content to make sure that malicious users, or “trolls”, do not spread misinformation.

This act of a small group working together to edit and revise information given to them by, most often, non-registered Wikipedia users is known as “crowdsourcing”, and the Owens reading explains this well. According to Owen, crowdsourcing is actually “a concept that was invented and defined in the business world” and “a process that involves outsourcing tasks to a distributed group of people”.

It is also interesting to note that crowdsourcing makes use of the “amateur’s” skills and their desire to contribute to things for the public good. Often, these amateurs or, rather, “lovers of “, have non-financial motivations. The Owens reading suggests that after all of one’s basic needs are met, one would participate in a cause that is bigger than themself and therefore have a sense of purpose.

Is crowdsourcing generally a good thing? Is crowdsourcing to amateurs generally a good thing? Why, or why not? We have all heard about not using Wikipedia as a source, however it may be argued that it is sometimes a good place to start – especially when we want to have a general idea as to what something is about. The sources section provided on the bottom of Wikipedia pages may be useful as a starting point as well, as it is a reservoir that may be accessed fairly quickly. What are your thoughts? What are some other websites that use crowdsourcing and the aid of amateurs?

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