This Week in Crowdsourcing – 3 Things to Know

September 12, 2014 Ben Kerschberg

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Enjoy these three articles from this week’s tech press. Data Deserts. The military establishment and innovation. And social media and crowdsourcing, all at your fingertips.

1. Travis Korte at the Center for Data Innovation wrote this great piece about American’s Data Deserts.

Korte states that that myriad communities nationwide contribute to data initiatives, be they to (i) detect earthquakes with Twitter; (ii) predict viral outbreaks; or (iii) any of the other “help humanity” initiatives with which we’re familiar. The information submitted by individuals, as measured by geography, is nowhere near even, a fact easily confirmed by looking at a map of the United States. It’s startling. Korte writes of these discrepancies: 

“[N]ot all communities are equally represented in these data sets. Unequal access to broadband service, variations in access to technology, disparities in the level of digital literacy, and a host of other factors can influence who is included in the data and who is not. When communities are not represented (or underrepresented) in the data, decisions made after analyzing this data may overlook members of these communities and their unique needs.

As a result, the amount of user-generated information produced in a particular area of the country can serve as a bellwether for how much that community is able to realize the benefits of the data revolution. As my colleague Daniel Castro describes in a recent report, these levels of inequality may even cluster geographically to give rise to “data deserts”—areas characterized by a lack of access to high-quality data that may be used to generate social and economic benefits. (emphasis added).”

Ben’s Take: If I were to edit the text above just slightly, we could be discussing the same sort of discrepancies addressed by The New Deal’s Rural Electrification programs. Seriously — now that’s something to chew on. (I imagine the map would look very similar from the Mississippi River to the eastern seaboard.) The asset (electricity; data) has changed; the imbalance remains. The notion of a desert data is frightening because it’s unlikely to become an oasis any time soon. Knowledge workers won’t move there because jobs will pay less and offer less training and room for advancement. Compared to their counterparts in the Research Triangle (NC) or Eugene, Oregon, for example, they will be at a distinct disadvantage not only when it comes to using data, but also to contributing as members of crowdsourcing communities to the important measures that Korte describes. The Center for Data Innovation has also published this Rise of Data Poverty in America, which you can download here.

2. The Department of Defense has decided to innovate by means of acquisitions, Mary-Louise Hoffman writes at ExecutiveGov.

According to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel:

“We must be innovative not only in developing the technologies we buy, but also how we buy them, and how we use them in order to achieve our operational and strategic objectives.”

Ben’s Take: I suppose this was only a matter of time. Intel community VC arms have been in this game for a while now. The Defense News reported on this as well, and it’s worth taking a look. This second piece provides an image — 3D modeling of gas masks — that immediately helps you “get it.”  I’m interested in seeing when defense and intelligence agencies start to crowdsource projects, which is a lot less expensive than acquisitions, and with better results. Intellectual property and security will always be raised as a roadblock, but Appirio has world-class safeguards IP and security measures built in to its crowdsourcing processes — there are highly sensitive methods of decomposing, extracting, and abstracting a challenge from its domain (e.g., pharmaceuticals) into pure math used regularly in Appirio’s work with the Harvard-NASA Tournament Lab, for example. It will take The Military Complex a while to come around, but I think they’ll eventually see the extraordinary benefits that their fellow agencies are realizing under the America COMPETES Act, not to mention rival powers that won’t take long before they can crowdsource as well as we can.

3. Crowdsourcing is spreading like wildfire with the help of social media, according to Michael Marchiondo.

I don’t think we should be too surprised. Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and other social media platforms provide amazing tools by which to spread the word about crowdsourcing opportunities. He writes:

“Just as the internet played a role in the evolution of the word, social media is transforming the way we think of crowdsourcing and will continue to do so as the benefits of using social media to crowdsource become more well-known. Social media is becoming an essential component to crowdsourcing as it allows organizations to reach a wider audience faster, cheaper and more efficiently than ever before.”

Ben’s Take: Even Appirio, which has a crowdsourcing of over 660,000, uses social media effectively both to evangelize and to entice new members.

It’s interesting to link this piece with the second article above about data poverty. If you’re not privy to data (e.g., social media), then you’re going to lose out on job opportunities, some of which you may well be qualified for — think of the high school kids who teach themselves to code and win international competitions. No data, no social media, no job announcements, an endless — and needless — cycle of both data poverty and economic poverty, which will soon be one and the same.

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