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Thoughts from a crowd

When Vancouverites gathered at the W2 Media Arts Centre for the second Fresh Media Remixology social, myself and the other organizers expected that conversations would be focused on crowdsourced media making. What we didn't anticipate was that attendees would have a hunger to talk about the implications of this new form of media making in other spheres of society.

Crowdsourcing, as defined by Jeff Howe who coined the term, is "the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call." The Fresh Media discussion started off with UBC Journalism Professor Alfred Hermida giving an overview of the topic of crowdsourcing as it relates to journalism. Hermida noted that "news organizations are exploring more collective, collaborative approaches, often around the edges of their news operations."

By the end of the discussion, consensus emerged that the roles of media makers, artists, programmers, owners etc. are shifting. Media editors, for example, could now be looked upon as taking on more of a curator role.

While it was interesting to survey the role of crowdsourcing in the world of media, art, and software, the Remixology conversation quickly moved to broader questions about the role that crowdsourcing (and specifically Twitter) plays in social movements, and its role in the broader offline world. Reilly Yeo, OpenMedia.ca's Managing Director, asked a question about the role of social media in social movements, citing a recent widely circulated article by Malcolm Gladwell. Perhaps the best response came from Twitter user Miraj Khaled (@asterix) who said "Twitter is only a platform & crowdsourcing a process. Movements are built by real people with the aid of these tools."

Crowdsourcing is a process or mode of production that bases the production of media (or anything else) and decision-making within a community of people. As Asher notes, we are at an "early stage of shifting from hierarchal control structures to much more organic, much more free form" ways of operating. Why not move the behaviours associated with crowdsourcing—collaboration, free sharing, promiscuous creativity—to the offline world.

In his book, appropriately titled Crowdsourcing, Jeff Howe describes a diverse array of examples of crowdsourcing being put to use, from tracking birds to NASA tracking changes on the surface of Mars to making T-shirts. The tools available through the open Internet and the collaboration they enable have eroded the barriers for participation in all facets of life, not just media production.

This brings us back to the exciting moment we're at in regards to media: it's not just the content of media that can inspire change, but also the process of media making itself. As the boundaries and roles of the industrial era break down in front of us, one thing is for certain—it's a good time to engage.
In case you're wondering, yes I did just crowdsource this column about crowdsourcing. V

Steve Anderson is the National Coordinator of OpenMedia.ca. Media Links is a syndicated column supported by Common Ground, The Tyee, Rabble.ca, and Vue Weekly

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