The Future of Crowdwork: CrowdCamp Workshop at CHI 2012

May 7, 2012

Think big! What would it take to make crowdsourcing and crowdwork a more sustainable, fulfilling, and efficient sector of economic and social production? (photo by John McNabb, cc-by-nc-nd)

This weekend, Andrés and I attended the CrowdCamp Workshop at CHI in Austin, Texas. The workshop was structured a lot like a hackathon, with the objective being to work in teams to produce projects, papers, or research.

The group I worked with coalesced around a proposal made by Niki Kittur, who suggested that we envision how crowdsourcing and distributed work contribute to solving grand challenges, such as economic inequality and the ongoing impact of the 2008 financial crisis.

We then spent the better part of the weekend outlining an ambitious set of scenarios and goals for the future of crowdwork.

While many moments of our conversation were energizing, the most compelling aspects derived from the group’s shared desire to imagine crowdwork and distributed online collaboration as potentially something more than the specter of alienated, de-humanized piece-work that it is frequently depicted to be.

To spur our efforts, we used a provocative thought experiment: what it would take for crowdwork to facilitate fulfilling, creative, and sustainable livelihoods for us or our (hypothetical or real) children?

Despite the limits of this framing, I think it opened up a discussion that goes beyond the established positions in debates about the ethics and efficiencies of paid crowdsourcing, distributed work, and voluntary labor online (all of which are, to some extent, encompassed under the concept of crowdwork in this case). It also hellped us start imagining howwe, as designers and researchers of crowdwork platforms and experiences, would go about constructing an ambitious research agenda on the scale of a massive project like the Hadron Collider.

If everything goes according to plan, this effort will result in at least a paper within the coming few weeks. Assuming that’s the case, our group will be sharing more details about the workshop and our vision of the future of crowdwork soon.

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4 Responses to “The Future of Crowdwork: CrowdCamp Workshop at CHI 2012”

  1. susansharma Says:

    The real impact of crowd sourcing can be felt when paid writers and even volunteers are kept off . Open up the forum to those who are really passionate about the issue.

    • aaron Says:

      @susansharma – Thanks for your comment. The point you’re making seems interesting, but I’m not sure I follow it completely. Can you say more about what you mean (and maybe give an example)?

  2. Susan Sharma Says:

    I have been running a CoP of nature lovers called IndianWildlifeClub.com. We have ongoing and archived content all of which is user generated. Crowdsourcing can get out of hand if the focus is lost. As long as the paid writers are selected for their passion and original content , it should work.

    • aaron Says:

      Thanks for that helpful clarification, Susan! The site looks great and sounds like an interesting community. I completely agree with your comment about needing focus for crowdsourcing communities – paid or unpaid – to work. Have you checked out the Cornell Ornithology Lab’s e-bird site or any of the Zooniverse projects? Those strike me as relevant and highly successful endeavors in “citizen science” that have facilitated exciting collaborations between volunteer communities of practice and professional scientists.


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