With a bit of free time my way, I’ll hopefully be able to catch up on a backlog of unfinished posts. To start, here’s an article by CBC News in Canada about Crowdsourcing (sorry, I’ve been sitting on that for a while). It’s quite a good, in-depth read, covering the usual Turk and Cambrian House, but also delving into the crowdsourced theory behind reCaptcha and (my academic hero) Luis von Ahn. Here’s how they define it:

It’s called crowdsourcing. The idea is to use the internet to get large numbers of people to help with a task.

They may do it for money — usually not much — or out of interest or simply because it’s fun.

Another mention of the term comes in a recent article titled “Facebook and Law“, looking at the effects that one Facebook group had in stalling the introduction new copyright laws in Canada.

Not only had tools like Facebook had an immediate effect on the government’s legislative agenda, but the community that developed around the group also led to a “crowdsourcing” of knowledge. Canadians from coast to coast shared information, posed questions, posted their letters to politicians, and started a national conversation on copyright law in Canada.

I like that the term ‘Crowdsourcing’ is becoming better understood not a a specific entity or fad, but rather as what it is: a word to describe something that couldn’t be adequately described in one word before.

A year ago, NYU professor Jay Rosen announced the launch of, an initiative in open-source, crowd-created, journalism. Now, in partnership with, they are publishing the results of their first project online.

Assignment Zero is their first experiment in “pro-am” (professional/amateur) journalism: journalism run by the public rather than the media. Articles do not by any means follow the wiki model —they are still mainly written individually— but what has been handed to the audience is the power of how these articles come together. It’s more like a social democracy than an anarchy. Assignment Zero is an attempt at journalism without strings: an audience-run newsroom. They think up the stories, choose them, contribute to research, hire reporters, and other such responsibilities. In addition to no tangible interest (perhaps debatable due to the intrinsic nature of those attracted to the project), a crowd model will encourage better journalism through apt journalist assignments and through reputation for quality. Those that produce better work can make more money. Oh, did I mention that journalists are paid? This effort is as much ‘pro’ as it is ‘am’, and for professionals to be such, their profession needs to be day job.

Jay Rosen writes that the project was inspired by Chris Allbritton, a journalist who snuck into Iraq based off the funding of the Internet. His website, Back to Iraq, was born of nearly $15000 in contributions from the audience. Rosen was intrigued by the grander implications of “alert publics [that] hire their own correspondents and share the results with the world, cutting ‘the media’ out entirely” and came to life.

Key players in the project are not shying away from Assignment Zero’s flaws. Reviews of the project chiefly cycle through different ways to say that it was a “successful failure” and optimistically defend the “learning” to be the main point of the project. David Cohn’s roundup of reactions says it better than I can, though the actual analysis published as part of AZ provides this insight: “if Assignment Zero failed to clear the especially high bar it set for itself, the fact it produced so large a body of work still speaks to the considerable potential of crowdsourced journalism”. (Did Assignment Zero Fail? A Look Back, and Lessons Learned)

It seems that one of most grievous issues was that of mission creep. Mission creep is the problem of a project growing quantitatively, reducing its reach qualitatively. Overambitious, per se. This problem, one many of us are familiar with, increases immensely with the communal governing of crowdsourcing. I could probably fill a whole post about the topic (link to come!).

For the most part, the projects goal to become the most comprehensive resource of crowdsourcing writing was too broad, and the project suffered from lack of direction. This is especially apparent with the output: 7 essays and 80 interviews, far short of the goal of 80 articles. For the time being, the interviews have no foreseeable future as a basis for expanded work, though their high-quality gives them value as raw material for a “great, synthetic essay”, Rosen suggests.

I encourage you to check out the first five published works of Assignment Zero because, thus far, they’re pretty good. A ‘successful failure’, if you will.

With Assignment Zero wrapping up, the next project in the works is OffTheBus, a presidential campaign tracking initiative done in conjunction with The Huffington Post.

As always, you can also go out and help.

Assignment Zero
PressThink, Jay Rosen’s blog