Monday, May 14, 2007


Sticking your head in the virtual quick-sand which is World of Warcraft is a good way of not really catching up with the latest in other trends, or at least the vocabulary, like Crowdsourcing. The wikipedia entrance I linked to there is an interesting example of the concept: first, wikipedia is a result of crowdsourcing: large amounts of people cooperating openly and individually to improve information and make more available. The entry is also obviously under revision, it's flagged as too short, too many references, not reliable, needs rework, needs more references, poor quality - it's obvious that a lot of people have been at work picking the original entry(ies) apart.

Personally, I have always believed in Crowdsourcing, and I believe in it in the way the cooperative power of self-organised interest groups is described in the Swedish book Samverkansspiralen. Here it offers voluntair work and cooperative action as a way to gain more knowledge and empower the participants towards more action - like for instance political activism.
I believe opportunities for open participation and contribution can go somewhere good, if you get caught up in a good circle, a positive spiral.

I found the concept itself, Crowdsourcing, in a paper which was surprisingly good. Dagbladet, one of the larger tabloids in Norway, has been going downhill for years. It used to be a very good magazine with interesting reportage, knowledgeable critical journalism and ambitions to cover Norwegian and international culture in depth, not just through sensation reporting. Saturday was an all time low for the paper, as the front page was all about who have which well-known figure on their "friends" list on facebook. It was about 10 minutes research and perhaps 30 minutes of getting the pictures "just right" behind that classic piece of journalism. The first time a Norwegian newspaper used all of the front page on just one case was in 1980-81, I think in February 1981, if I remember correctly. Of course, I can google it. Yep, February 22, 1981.

This event was a shocking piece of news in Norway at the time. Two members of a neo-nazi group, "Norges Germanske Armé", were executed by their leaders, as they were considered to be a danger for the organisation after a weapons theft. One of them had however already talked to the police, and the police was on to that something was going on. They couldn't prevent the double murder, but they did get the ones guilty immediately. This event had everything: drama, deep historical roots, controversy and important political consequences for a country forever deeply branded by Hitler's plans for a master race. Today Norwegian banners and national symbols are used as a substitution for forbidden nazi symbols. It's a past which is always with us.

Fastforward from a front page (not even in this paper, but their main competitor, this paper was still full format and filled with words, not pictures in 1981) dramatically displaying this tragic and stunning event, to pictures of Norwegian "stars" and speculation about who knows who on facebook. Yes, I keep losing illusions about the progress of journalism on paper.

So what did I learn. I learned that there is a word for the viral spread of knowledge, the anthill of collaboration which creates rhizomic growths with the virtual function of anything from tumors to castles online. I had to check, a journalistic experiment for crowds.

For years, I have been telling journalists they don't need to be worried about their jobs, because the individual personal publishers of blogs, wikis and other direct publishing systems are not journalists. Now, considering what looks like a steady decline of print and television journalism, organised, cooperative journalism may be a good reason to start worrying.

(BTW: From the front page of this not-worst-case paper: "Abused online", with a picture of a well known Norwegian actress. Turns out somebody have made TWO fake profiles in her name on facebook. The horror, the horror!)

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