As I get ready to leave for the long weekend, I wanted to get a post up with a little bit of staying power. So I thought I'd engage in a little thought experiment. I'm going to pretend I run a good-sized news desk (we'll call it the crowdsourcing bureau) and I actually have a team of writers I can send out on assignment. A lot of press releases, personal appeals, business proposals and the like come across my transom. Some are intriguing. Many are bone-headed, or bear the unmistakable scent of snake oil. I've selected several of the former and have written up what are generally called "assignment memos" in the industry.
Now my suspicion is that my little parlor game will start and end with this post. But if any of you feel inspired, go ahead and take any of the following assignments. I promise to post any reasonably well-written and well-reasoned post that results.
Story: The USAID Development 2.0 Challenge
Backgrounder: The United States Agency for International Development isn't known for innovation. But it's recently launched an initiative to generate ideas on how mobile applications could be used to "improve development impact and connect people in developing countries to key resources in health, banking, education, agricultural trade, or other pressing development issues." Three winners will be chosen. Grand prize is 10 grand. The runners up get $5,000. All three will be lauded at a ceremony in DC in the new year. The community will vote on the projects and a jury (Full Disclosure: I've agreed to sit on said jury) will pick the three winners from the fifteen most popular projects.
Angle: Such open source challenges have produced rich yields for companies like NetFlix and Google. However, USAID is offering considerably less money than these private sector firms did. Can the prize format work in the public sector? What does a mobile expert make of the proposals submitted thus far? Are they feasible? The question foremost in my mind is, who gets the contract to develop the winning application? Presumably the submitter should have a stake in it. Do they retain rights to their intellectual property, or do they—as in most cases with the prize form of crowdsourcing—hand it over to the intitution?
Story: The Extraordinaries—Philanthropy! On Your iPhone!
Backgrounder: A lot of people have been trying to find the confluence between crowdsourcing and philanthropy (including—see above—USAID). But the Extraordinaries, by this assigning editor's lights, are making a good shot at it. Generally I like to see rubber hitting road before siccing one of my reporters (remember, we're in pretendville here) on a story, but sometimes the idea alone merits a story. The Extraordinaries folks have built an application that could be downloaded to any smart phone. It would allow users to donate those unused minutes in their day (what Clay Shirky aptly calls "cognitive surplus") to, well, doing good. Examples: "Transcribe old books; Critique people's resumes; Identify potholes in your community; Translate docs for a non-profit;" Etc. The problem with many crowdsourcing ideas is they don't take modularity into account, which is to say, they don't anticipate that most people don't have an hour to give them, but only a few minutes or two. The Extraordinaries builds this anticipation into their product.
Angle: Simple: Dig into the company. What are the founders' backgrounds? Will this work? What do professional developers think about it? Best yet: How could various charitable organizations utilize this?
More stories TK. It's 5:30 and time to start baking pies.