Collective Surveillance – or crowd-sourcing an investigation

As we get to know different parts of the puzzle about the Boston Marathon bombers, one thing has become clear. The biggest leads came from cameras that were in the hands of private citizens.

To this end, read this by someone who predicted citizens’ potential:

If the day comes when millions of people go about their lives while wearing sensor-equipped wearable computers, the population could become a collective surveillant: Big everybody.

That was Howard Rheingold, in Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution.

How will citizen participation take shape when everyone is a reporter, a photo-journalist? It’s easy to be cynical, but I have talked to many people about this, in my book, Chat Republic, and have to admit that you win some, you lose some: freedom / security.

Crowd-sourcing, whether it is investigating health issues or knowledge is always a good thing.

Still thumbing your nose at Wikipedia?

Cross posting this from the IABC Blog.

I’m not sure what you think of Wikipedia, but there are many people -communicators and business people – who are still deeply suspicious of it, even though they continue to dip in and out of it to ‘check on something.’Students use it but sparingly, it seems. Most people I asked said they use it a lot. I was curious about this ambivalence, and wanted to find out how distrust can work alongside usefulness. But the more I looked, the more I became convinced that it’s time for serious communicators to put those early notions aside and take a second look at something that has changed knowledge sharing in a remarkable way. This is the topic of my article in the upcoming July-August CW magazine, but before it hits your mailbox, here’s something that might whet your appetite.

  • Did you know that over 50 percent of edits are made by less than one percent of Wikipedia users?
  • Did you know that there are hundreds of articles waiting in a queue to be edited, completed, fact-checked, etc.?

If you’ve been one of those people who have complained loudly that some of the articles are patently written by some 14-year old, then here’s your chance to do something about it. If you’re one of those folks who proudly inserts the term ‘crowd-sourcing’ into a PowerPoint presentation or discussion on social media, then here’s a great opportunity to get some dirt under your fingernails and see how it really happens.

I love the idea of crowd-sourcing myself, and quite frankly, I had stayed off the Wikipedia edit pages for awhile -after some very simple edits many years ago. The coding (wiki syntax) is not easy to remember unless you dabble in some HTML. But you don’t need to know a lot to start. When I got back to it, what I found was fascinating. Even outside the realm of serious ‘collective intelligence,’ one of the great side effects of Wikipedia is that it has turned into a site to go to for event coverage. Like a global team of citizen journalists, passionate editors quickly add detail to a breaking story like some back-room iReporters. Their bylines are cryptic usernames, and they don’t seek recognition. Some news tidbits don’t always show up in the main article –until the edit wars and discussions are settled– but they are a rich source of information. Maybe you could be one of those contributors as well!

But as I explain in the article, there is a lot of serious content you may be able to contribute to. Wikipedia needs more editors, writers, and good content specialists. Even persnickety fact-checkers, punctuation freaks and content curators. In other words, people like you who yearn to inform and are natural collaborators.

If you like to get an idea of where you could start, Wikipedia has some areas for you waiting to be worked on. Check these out:

Requested Articles: these are internal links (known as, and seen as, ‘red links’) that go nowhere, so basically they are articles waiting to be created.  Type WP:RA into the search box to find them. Plenty of topics to choose from.

Articles for Creation: Type in WP:AFC to get started on an article. It takes you thgrough the basic steps and policies, and points to an article wizard.

There’s work to be done in updating small things, if not writing full-blown articles. Consider your local IABC chapter perspective. Of the 100 or so IABC chapters, only 13 have been listed here, with external links, that is. This is up from 10 chapters when my article went to print.

Go for it!

Maping what’s happening in Haiti

Interesting how geomapping is taking off, as  interactive maps (and visualization) becomes a huge asset to crisis communications, journalism. You may recall how mapping was used for the Swine flu.

Now people can help map the relief operation in Haiti – at Ushahidi, a crowd-sourcing site I love to support.

It’s got links to video, news, pictures and ‘Todo’ lists. The site pulls together urgent need requests and status updates.

Like this desparate request:

@MelyMello @WFPlogistics so clos 2 airprt, can u help get help? 18°35’36.24″N, 72°16’40.37″W Othopedic clinic,needs narcotics,IV antibiotics,diesel,gas

Campaign to map Haiti

You can get involved via txt, email, hashtag. Details here:

Cult of the Amateur, full of holes, great read!

If you tend to get pulled into discussions about the pros and cons of social media, Andrew Keen’s The cult of the amateur is a good book to get you all fired up. It is full of holes, plenty of hyperbole, and comes across as an angry dissertation by someone who wanted to get things off his chest in a hurry. But that’s precisely why it’s important to check it out.

These are the kind of arguments someone in the room will bring up when debating whether comments ought to be moderated, or the management team should care about comments by the ’stupid public’ in relation to a YouTube video.

Keen is the kind of person who would have dismissed Abraham Zapruder’s film as unreliable and amateurish, just because he was not a real journalist. Keen is very passionate about the morphing or passing away of the old media. Some of what he observes is accurate, about the digital economy, the downside of internet as an economic and communication conduit. The usual suspects are paraded: click fraud, Google bombing, anonymous YouTube videos (like the Penguin attack on Al Gore by a PR firm), online gambling, fake blogs etc.

For every Perez Hilton and Matt Drudge, bottom-up distribution through blogs, podcasts, Flickr and Digg has created discourse about journalism and law, for instance –from the likes of Jeff Jarvis, Lawrence Lessig and Glen Reynolds. He omits mention of how the pajama bloggers he vilifies fact-checked and checkmated Dan Rather. He would be terribly upset that NBC anchor, Brian Williams writes a blog, and that the queen of England released her Christmas day message through the same democratized distribution network that amateurs upload content, YouTube.

But Cult’s true weakness is in mixing up his argument about amateurism, with an argument about all things digital. To suggest that YouTube, Google, iTunes and Craigslist is causing the extinction of newspapers, television and record labels misses the reality about how these older media were structured, and how some of them failed to respond to changing audience behavior and interests. Smart journalists realize that this isn’t the slippery slope, and that they could adapt. A few weeks ago Dan Shearer, senior editor of the Mesa Republic hailed a citizen reporter for being the first responder with information and pictures of a church fire.

“Ignorance meets bad taste meets mob rule” does fit some of the awful content that passes for entertainment and news, but we haven’t said bye bye to the experts and gatekeepers. It’s just that they are different, and operate differently. To me this has nothing to do with the democratization of media; it’s what we have put up for years on (sigh) the six-o-clock news on television, long before the digital tsunami hit.

Just for the record this is the lens through which Keen sees social media:

  • Amazon: “chief slayer of the independent book store”
  • YouTube: “a large commercial break”
  • Google: a “parasite,” and “an electronic mirror of ourselves”
  • Pastors who research sermons online are “plagiarists;” Lessig is “misguided;” the internet is a “moral hazard.”

There is hope. The last chapter, Solutions, does offer some ideas as to what could be done to save the world from going to hell in a hand-basket. But I won’t spoil it for you. It’s a book I still believe everyone, even those mildly involved in media and communications, ought to read, after Wikinomics. When looking up Wikinomics on Amazon, Keen’s book does not come up as “Customers who bought this item also bought,” recommendation. But then the “chief slayer of the independent bookstore” wouldn’t be reliable, would it?