This one's so obvious I can't believe I didn't already suggest it to my own home team, the New York Yankees. Why rely on professional scouts—few in number, limited in resources—when you can animate the power of the crowd to do the scouting for you. Last week The Wall Street Journal reported on how the St. Louis Cardinals are asking their fans to identify baseball talent that might otherwise go unnoticed.
The "One for the Birds" contest is meant to help the team find talent at smaller, non-Division I colleges that don't get much attention from scouts. Fans file entries by going to the Carindals' Website and filling out a form, including the player's name, statistics and a summarized recommendation of up to 300 words and other information. When the submissions are in, the team plans to send its own scounts to evaluate a handful of the most interesting prospects. ... The winning fan gets a trip to St. Louis to see a pair of games.
I'd like to tease out two themes here. The first is that by offering so little in the way of compensation—one fan gets to see two free games—the Cards are recognizing what's come to be an accepted fact of crowdsourcing efforts: We ain't in it for the money, we do it for the fun.
More interesting, and more important, is something else entirely: The "One for the Birds" program also recognizes that what the crowd excels at isn't so much analysis as it is data collection. This has become a central theme in my book as well. We're entering a period that can be thought of as Crowdsourcing's second iteration, and a big part of that involves downscaling what we expect from the crowd.
I'll close by pointing out a close parallel from a wildly divergent field, journalism. Amanda Michel, my former colleague from our crowdsourced journalism experiment, Assignment Zero, now runs Off the Bus for the Huffington Post. She's also come to recognize that her community works best when it aims small. Proof of this is the recently launched Off the Bus Super Delegate Investigation. Did she ask people to write features about the delegate process? Or to write Op-Eds on whether Super-Dels should go with the will of the people or the will of the party elite? Nope and nope. She gave them a questionnaire and assigned each volunteer to ask a series of uniform questions to every one of the Super Delegates. It's a task that would have overwhelmed the physical resources of any newsroom (though importantly, not its intellectual resources.) But for a few hundred geographically dispersed volunteers it's a breeze, requiring neither training nor a large commitment of time.
These are the kinds of models that hold enormous promise, and that I predict we'll see much more of in coming months and years. Humble in intellectual pretense but ambitious in scope, they are well-suited to that most salient characteristic of a crowd: it has numbers on its side.