I still don’t fully understand what Assignment Zero is. But I did an interview for one of their reporters when I was under the impression that the web site was a bottom-up, self-governed, collaborative journalism project. It may be, but it may not be. I asked a few of the folks writing for the site, and none of them knew the precise relationship between their work and CondeNaste.
Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that the discussion Sara Cove wanted to have with me for Assignment Zero was mostly about crowdsourcing – a word that has rubbed me the wrong way since the first time I heard it (a couple of weeks before I did the interview, in fact).
Anyway, here it is:
Sarah Cove: What is crowdsourcing for you?
Douglas Rushkoff: Well, I haven’t used the term crowdsourcing in my own conversations before. Every time I look at, it rubs me the wrong way.
Q: Why is that?
A: I understand crowdsourcing as kind of an industrial age, corporatist framing of a cultural phenomenon. There’s human energy being expended here. A company can look at that as either a threat — to their copyrights and intellectual property or as some unwanted form of competition – or, if they see it positively, then they see it as almost this new affinity group population to be exploited as a resource. And I guess what I’m undecided on and debating internally is whether this is fine. In other words, am I naïve to think this isn’t the death knell for a community-oriented, collaborative, open source ethos? Has corporate America finally figured out the way to arrest this shift in the balance of power? Or do we let them believe they are doing this when actually it is human participation and collaboration going on, the kind of thing I would promote.
Q: So crowdsourcing is a new understanding of collaboration, a new business model, for corporations?
A: Well, on the one hand, crowdsourcing is nothing new at all. It’s the way that the Harry Potter franchise has websites where people write their own Harry Potter stories and expand on that universe. From the franchise stance, as long as none of it is officially sanctioned, then let the users go crazy with it, give more people reason to buy more books. That’s crowdsourcing of a kind, because it’s part of what keeps that brand and that franchise alive. And there’s nothing wrong with people doing that. They are getting more entertainment value out of being amateur producers of this stuff than they would purely as consumers.