Comments: "The compensation is usually far less than what a employee might make ..."

The public is working for the public.

Please point out precisely where the inequity is.

Do you suspect there's a private party claiming ownership of the fruits of this labour? Perhaps you think they'll be double-charging the public or their agents for it?

Given a choice between the public paying a large amount of money for disinterested staff to do mundane work, vs interested members of the public doing the same work for their own benefit and that of the public, it seems the latter is more economic and more effective.

Quid pro quos don't always have to be monetary. One person's equitable bargain may appear to be inequitable to another - just look at all those poor free software coders apparently slogging away for nothing.

Posted by Crosbie Fitch at November 4, 2006 11:15 AM

Excellent point, Crosbie. As the coiner of the term, I share a lot of the misgivings being expressed by people about the exploitive potential of crowdsourcing. But in many cases everyone really does win. Take the example I used in my Wired News piece in which a "crowd" of Ft. Myer residents (and other interested individuals around the globe) pooled their resources (expertise and attention) to bring a corrupt utility to heel. In exchange they received far cheaper utility fees, a more responsive government and, most valuable of all, the sense that they had the power to exercise the "check" on governmental abuse formerly reserved for the "Fourth Estate." That's crowdsourcing at its best, and the editors who made it happen individuals with a deep commmittment to democracy, not cost-savings are to be applauded. For anyone who's interested, I've posted a longer version of the Ft. Myers story on my blog,

Posted by Jeff Howe at November 4, 2006 11:37 AM

Academics already work in an environment where a tiny elite (the tenured) reap the benefits of a large population of barely paid or unpaid strivers (the vast bulk of Ph.D.s and Ph.D. wannabes in grad school, who teach most the classes and do much of the work.)

I therefore wouldn't be too surprised if they had positive things to say about that social structure elsewhere, as long as it has the same superficial trappings of meritocracy.

Posted by Greg at November 4, 2006 11:38 AM

I don't know what good it does you to rant about this, Seth, but it does me good reading you rant about it. Newspapers are even hyping "user-generated content," which will no doubt be used as justification to further cut reporting positions. Keep your bubble-popping pin close at hand.

Posted by Rogers Cadenhead at November 4, 2006 02:04 PM

There should be a "Now that" in my second sentence. I wish I had a user-generated editor.

Posted by Rogers Cadenhead at November 4, 2006 02:05 PM

Jeff: Voluteering is good. Voluteers can do great things. Wholesale replacing jobs with voluteerism, and going on about how that's justified because being a volunteer makes people feel happy - well, that's problematic (Crosbie: this is also the answer to you).

Greg: Yes. In fact, very active Wikipedia editors are very much like grad students in motivation.

Rogers: Thanks - Always good to know somebody somewhere is actually reading me.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at November 4, 2006 08:19 PM

Here you go, Seth, et al:

Supporting evidence that UGC is Evil (tm).

In short, the public is "empowered" to take photos of polling places (actually that's illegal in more than a few places, but details, details) and pass them along to a web site, and in turn, at least one firm will use these photos to aid in their efforts to "streamline" voting processes.

For those keeping score at home:

Empowering web site/consulting firms: 1
El Chumpo: 0

Now, wrt the idea that the exterior of a polling place can be photographed without violating any laws, well, post 9/11, I think we've seen what has happened to people who take photos of federal/state/municipal buildings, yes? Bonus points if you're swarthy-looking. In fact, I hereby empower everyone to send me photos of swarthy-looking people taking photos of federal/state/municipal buildings on election day and the sorts of reactions the public had to those acts. Remember, it's "open source", so it has to be good.

Posted by Ethan at November 4, 2006 10:46 PM

There is a worrying idea that people MUST be paid for their labour, e.g. that musicians MUST be paid for their music, that programmers MUST be paid for their code, that volunteers MUST be paid at least the statutory minimum wage.

This denies people their right to make their own bargains and patronises them as simpletons.

It would prevent me commenting on your blog for example, unless you fancy paying me a cent per comment? ;-)

I'd rather a world where no-one had to be paid to do work they didn't like, that everyone could do the work they wanted and exchange it at a free market for whatever equity or money the market would bear.

I exchange the labour of your blog posts and your offer to contextually publish my comments, for my labour in commenting.

Not all bargains need contracts and lawyers.

Posted by Crosbie Fitch at November 5, 2006 11:13 AM

This denies people their right to make their own bargains and patronises them as simpletons.

The crux of the issue, using my above comment as an example, is that some of these "bargains" are disingenuous at best. I dare say that we collectively read and comment on this blog because we know that "free" is a two-way street. If Seth was trying to package our comments and re-sell them somehow, and not offering any sort of compensation as an incentive, I think the dynamics here would change quite a bit.

In the above linked example, I object to the - indeed, patronizing - claim that the site "empowers" people to engage in acts that they theoretically could do anyway, site or no site, but then they plan to use that material as part of a (presumably paid) consulting gig. I ask: How much would it cost for these consultants to do this work on their own? If they were more honest about their intent, then indeed, "bargains" may be entered into voluntarily, but with informed consent.

Posted by Ethan at November 5, 2006 11:49 AM

Ethan, don't get me wrong. I'll join any army of pitch fork wielding citizens against any corporation that thinks it can resell a publicly created work back to the public that laboured to produce it.

The thing is, I've yet to see any corporation be this stupid. I'm not saying there won't be such stupidity we can look forward to, but I have every confidence it will be demonstrated as a Pyrrhic business model.

At the moment we're seeing speculators fall over themselves in talking up the valuations of their presumed ownership of public works.

There is a comparable situation going on with extension of copyright term. This is the supposed extension of private ownwership of what was supposed to be publicly owned work, i.e. theft of IP from the public domain.

Private ownership of published works is no longer viable, whether copyright term is increased or decreased.

The same applies to collaboratively produced public works.

Any corporation that attempts to harness apparently free energy from (their flawed perception of) the public as gullible slaves is going to find themselves in big trouble. They can pretend to be able to do this and exploit the deluded mugs investing in them as part of Bubble 2.0, but it's just another example of cold fusion.

Did you know that I've just come into possession of the Empire State building by the way? I'm offering slots for maintenance tenders at the bargain rate of $10,000 per hour.

Posted by Crosbie Fitch at November 5, 2006 03:29 PM

I just received a FREE invite to enter a competition.

1) Challenge: Write a good article on subject X
2) Criteria: Best N articles
3) Prize: Get to be a registered blogger on the site

What is the analogy?
Competing to be a member of a choir?
Competing to be to be an unpaid extra in the next Star Trek movie?
Competing to be selected for the next Reader's Digest new poetry compendium?

Not being cynical here (well, not very), but is this a good way for a blog site to get more writers? Should there be blog-mags in any case?

Posted by Crosbie Fitch at November 9, 2006 09:28 AM