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When crowdsourcing goes wrong

September 15, 2011
Hog Wild image

Laurel and Hardy's Hog Wild - crowdsourcing can create potential chaos unless managed effectively

In my last post I talked about crowdsourcing and its potential for commissioning new titles by publishers who want to go beyond the traditional “let authors write to us with their proposal” model.

I’m indebted to a good friend of mine in the States who has drawn my attention to an interesting failing in the crowd-sourcing model – the potential for malevolence.

According to an article in the New York Times, Google Maps/Places permits users to register a business as “permanently closed” as a way of using crowds to update information in cyberspace. Cue the malevolent business competitor, maverick or whip-cracking dandy who seeks to cause trouble by simply clicking on a business as permanently closed.

Google are aware of this as an issue now. According to the New York Times article, “In mid-August, a search consultant and blogger named Mike Blumenthal was so rankled by what he considered Google’s cavalier attitude to closings on Google that he committed an act of online disobedience: He “closed” Google’s offices in Mountain View, Calif. For a brief period, Google itself was “reportedly closed,” according to Places. “I did it to point out how annoying this is when it happens,” he said.”

Apparently, all it took was for him and one other friend to create a “crowd” officially to register Google as closed for good. Nice one, Mr Blumenthal! But, despite this whacko wheeze, Blumthal’s actions highlight a problem with crowdsourcing: crowds may not be very nice. What may appear a genuine action can be anything of the sort.

Yes, a crowd can be sincere and the ethos behind crowdsourcing – whether it’s commissioning new books or updating Wilkipedia – is a sound one. But, of course, there are always people out there who just like to screw things up. Trusting in human nature can be risky. Not everyone behaves the same.

I suspect from a publisher’s point of view, if interaction between reader and company is strong enough – and if editorial controls are pro-active rather than reactive – then crowdsourcing can offer fertile ground for planting new product ranges with commercial potential. Crowdsourcing can, when managed, provide a valuable and effective structure for a publishing strategy, product management, and much more.

But fail to manage the process or fail to understand that some members of the human race can be less than desirable and it could well be that crowdsourcing could lead to your company being “closed for good” too. Social media, like any other form of company interaction, needs careful and strategic management.

For anyone relying on social media to inform business direction, it certainly pays to be cautious. As Oliver Hardy shouts to his wife in “Hog Wild” when looking for his hat (which, needless to say, he is already wearing): “I am going to take one more look for it. And if I don’t find it, have a care!”

It doesn’t matter who you are, or what industry you’re in, any fool can be blind to the obvious.

Quotation courtesy of New York Times.

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