We have a deadline! I have to file all the comments for the book a week from Friday. Expect the next postings to come fast and furious. Once again: I'm posting excerpts from my book on crowdsourcing to Crowdsourcing.com in order to elicit comments about its content from readers. The most trenchant of those comments will be gathered into an appendix that will be published as a chapter in the book. Here's the last sections—the denouément, if you will—to Chapter Eight:The Price of Being a Pioneer
The Price of Being a Pioneer
If I sound sympathetic to the predicament Current TV faced in its first forays into crowdsourcing, it’s because I spent the first half of 2007 making the same mistakes. In that time I helped run an experimental journalism project called Assignment Zero, an attempt to use crowdsourcing to conduct an extensive, far-reaching journalistic investigation. It was a pioneering effort and it’s true what they say about pioneers: They’re the ones with arrows in their backs. In the end, I came to think of Assignment Zero as a highly satisfying failure. On one hand we failed to meet our optimistic goals; on the other hand, by charging heedlessly into uncharted territory, we learned a great deal about how the crowd can come together to create great journalism. The basic principles behind successful crowdsourced journalism aren’t much different than those behind successful crowdsourced television or photography.
Assignment Zero was a joint effort between Wired and NewAssignment.Net, the experimental journalism initiative started by New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen. In early 2006 Rosen began conceiving of a journalism project that would involve both professional and amateur contributors. But Rosen needed funding to staff up with the professionals he would need. Later that year he flew to San Francisco to meet with Evan Hansen, the editor-in-chief of Wired.com. Newly acquired by Condé Nast, Wired.com was looking to experiment broadly and boldly, particularly in the realm of so-called “citizen journalism.” It was a fortuitous meeting, and together the two created Assignment Zero, indicating the nascent character of citizen journalism. The aim was to have a crowd of volunteers write the definitive report on how crowds of volunteers are upending established businesses, from software to encyclopedias and beyond. We would use the crowd, in other words, to cover crowdsourcing. Having coined the term in a June 2006 Wired article, I was brought in as a consultant. We launched in March 2007 with the intention of producing 80 feature articles—enough to fill a dozen magazines—over the course of 12 weeks. The result, we wrote when launching the project, would be "the most comprehensive knowledge base to date on the scope, limits and best practices of crowdsourcing." We would post the features on NewAssignment.Net, and run a selection of the best stories on Wired.