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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

Crowdsourcing, or, 200,000 heads are better than one

October 24th, 2011 by Susan Smith

A think tank is usually comprised of a group of people hand selected to solve a particular problem or to do research on a problem. We don’t usually open up the think tank to just anyone.

Crowdsourcing opens up a question or inquiry or research to everyone, or perhaps to a select special interest group, those who can offer authoritative data. People are drawn to contribute knowledge – whether it be of the pothole status in a given neighborhood, crime rates, weather patterns, or crisis intervention. This knowledge has very often not had a home in the past because there was nowhere to put it, or it might have to be vetted first (made into authoritative geodata) before being committed to the total database of knowledge on the given subject.

We tend think of crowdsourcing as the province of the geospatial industry. We perceive of it as a number of people sharing their specific and possibly disparate information about an event, location or weather patterns, in order to add to the whole body of knowledge surrounding those events. It has arrived by way of various sources – most notably lately, via mobile devices or GPS.

On another front, Google and the Israel Museum have put their heads together to provide online a way to people to contribute what they know to the 1,000 posted Dead Sea Scrolls. These scholars may not be traveling to Israel to see the Scrolls, as they might have had to in the past, but can simply log on to the Museum site to post their findings and view the findings of others.

In 2008, specialists began photographing the 2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls with the intention of making them accessible online. Now, over three years later, the Israel Museum finally posted digital versions of five scrolls on its website.

On another front, Google has formed the Google Art Project which hosts high resolution images from 17 museums around the world.

Another instance is where gamers solved a problem AIDs researchers had been struggling with for years. The scientists had been trying to figure out an enzyme, but were unable to decode its molecular structure. The group built an online game that allows people to break down protein structures. It attracted more than 236,000 people who sifted through all the possibilities. At one point, two anonymous players came upon the correct structure for the protein.

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has been a place for amateur astronomers to gather – more than 250,000 people have signed up to filter through the images captured by the telescope.

So crowdsourcing invites minds – perhaps great minds that think alike – to address problems of the universe. Is this perhaps the way we might solve large problems in the future?

Google’s Dead Sea Scrolls is latest crowdsourcing project The Washington Post

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