Law enforcement agencies were quick to adopt crowdsourcing. In the fall of 2006 Texas set up the "Virtual Neighborhood Border Watch Program; One detective employed crowdsourcing (and playing cards!) to crack cold cases; and late last year the FBI announced a plan to turn 150 digital billboards into massive wanted posters. It's a natural fit, and hardly unprecedented. Think of that standby of old Westerns, the posse or—more ominously—the Stasi's persuading one half of the East German populace to spy on the other half. Crowdsourcing Uber Alles!
Which brings us to our first link of the day: UCrime, which takes campus crime data and maps it using a GoogleMap API, representing each category of crime with a cute little icon (did anyone ever really put money in a bag with a dollar sign on it?) Sound familiar? That's because Adrian Holovaty got hella props when he did the same thing with a far larger data set, creating the seminal ChicagoCrime.org (since folded into Holovaty's hyper-local journalism company, EveryBlock). Ever since programmers and journalists alike have gone dotty over data-feeds.
The UCrime Map of my hometown university, Ohio State.
What separates UCrime from the pack? It's Web 2.0, but squared! Which is to say, UCrime has added a few crowdsourcey features to their service. Not only can students look at a visual representation of crime at their uni, they can use UCrime to
trash their enemies report crimes themselves. "Social networking features will," according to CEO Colin Drane, "empower [them] to provide tips and ideas to help solve crimes and improve public safety." Wonderful. A tipline with all the credibility of a MySpace page. My cynicism may well be premature: If UCrime can help me find out who stole my mountain bike in 1992, I'll cheerfully grovel out an apology. Hint: I last saw it chained to a meter outside the Ohio University student union. (Thanks to the reliably astute Craig Stoltz at "Web 2.Oh ... Really?" for his post on UCrime.)
On to India, where an electric utility in the state of Haryana has set up a "theft informer scheme" to deter people from stealing electricity. The program received 8,500 complaints leading to 1,400 "theft incidents," which one has to imagine is a pretty good signal to noise ratio. After some trial and error, informers now receive 40 percent of the value of the recovered electricty (no word on how that's measured), leading one blogger on the subcontinent to wonder whether crowdsourcing's success is proportional to the size of the incentive. I'd say yes, but caution that the incentive isn't always (or even usually) measured in dollars—or rupees.
Finally, the promised (and not entirely unrelated) miscellany:
• The Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism were announced yesterday. Included was Ushahidi, a "grassroots information-sharing" Website where Kenyan "bloggers and citizen journalists could text eyewitness accounts and map incidents of political violence." We tend to focus on the impact citizen/crowdsourced/distributed journalism will have in the United States, but it holds an even greater promise in regions where journalistic resources are scarce.
• Finally, Mozilla crowdsources the "future of the Internet," by which they seem to mean, the future of the Internet browser. It seems like a contest without a winner or a prize, which I think is the wrong way to go. (If someone from Mozilla wants to correct me on this, please speak up.) Early submissions can be seen here.