Crowdsourced
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The Rise of the Internet (Anti)-Intellectual? →

Highlights:

"…the need for public intellectuals, the role of academics in framing theories of new technologies and what the consequences are when we leave this discussion to be dominated by business folks."

"…Jarvis’ book is part of a larger trend of so-called Internet Intellectuals or “gurus” who are not doing rigorous work but instead providing sound-bites aimed squarely at the business community."

"Where is the Marshall McLuhan of social media? Why is it that Jeff Jarvis is setting the public conversation on publicity, Andrew Keen on amateurism, Tapscott and Williams on prosumption, Siva Vaidhyanathan on the impact of Google on society or Chris Anderson on abundance economies and “free”? To be clear, I think it is good that these folks hit on important topics in a catchy way. But they cannot be the whole picture, nor should they even be at the center. None of them provide a rigorous historical or theoretical treatment of their topics."

"…maybe the blame for the Sesame Street level books that dominate tech-writing is that publishers simply are not allowing public intellectuals to publish their ideas?"

"…start a conversation over who gets to frame how new technologies are understood. Will it be a-historical, a-theoretical, non-rigorous business folks or can we inspire a new wave of technology-centered public intellectuals?"

Now the advocates of a critical (autonomist) position towards free labour may validly respond that free labour only becomes an issue in spheres of activity where there has been extensive commodification, and that the vast social reach of certain digital technologies makes it important to highlight the labour that they depend upon. The development of the internet might be an example of this, or more specific sites such as YouTube. Even here, however, there are problems that we might want to consider, and which do not seem to have been raised in the debates about free labour. Terranova’s seminal account usefully pointed to the huge amount of unpaid work necessary to create the internet. But it may be said in response that those who undertook such unpaid digital labour might have gained a set of rewards from such work, such as the satisfaction of contributing to a project which they believed would enhance communication between people and ultimately the common good; or in the form of finding solutions to problems and gaining new skills which they could apply later in other contexts. In some cases, it might be possible to think of their work as involving the building of skills which lead to higher wages being paid in the longer term – a kind of deferred wage. Without denying for a moment the fundamental importance of a living wage, it seems dangerous to think of wages as the only meaningful form of reward, and it would surely be wrong to imply that any work done on the basis of social contribution or deferred reward represents the activities of people duped by capitalism. Actually, it seems to me that this would run the danger of internalising capitalism’s own emphasis on commodification.
David Hesmondhalgh, in User-generated content, free labour and the cultural industries (2010, p. 278)
To put it simply, Steve Jobs is no better than Bill Gates: whether it be Apple or Microsoft, global access is increasingly grounded in the virtually monopolistic privatization of the cloud which provides this access. The more an individual user is given access to universal public space, the more that space is privatized.

Reining in Crowdsourcing →

Since Jeff Howe coined the term, a number of self-proclaimed “crowdsourcing experts” sprung up online, each claiming to know enough about the model to provide expensive consulting services. A bunch of journalists also claimed to know what crowdsourcing really was, resulting in a slew of popular press articles that conflated the term with the likes of Wikipedia and other non-crowdsourcing processes.

For example, a recent BBC News magazine article conflated crowdsourcing with open source software product Linux. A 2007 ReadWriteWeb article wrongly labels Wikipedia and even Google as examples of crowdsourcing. And a 2009 Forbes article lumps Wikipedia and open source software together under the umbrella term of crowdsourcing in order to make a number of claims dismissing the power and potential of crowds to solve problems. This Forbes article is a great example of why we need boundaries on the term. If we don’t understand what crowdsourcing really is, how can we make judgments about its performance, its value to business, or its potential to facilitate the solving of pressing social and environmental problems?

Many people trade in the buzzword of crowdsourcing, but few actually know what they’re talking about. We have a decent collection of case studies, but otherwise there is relatively little empirical research that has been done on the crowdsourcing model. So-called business gurus and business journalists are quick to praise or dismiss crowdsourcing in business contexts, but rarely is the empirical research from innovation scholars cited. These gurus also claim to know what works and what doesn’t in terms of the design of crowdsourcing sites, yet few consult the literature on usability, design, and architecture from the computing disciplines. And many are quick to label crowdsourcing as exploitive or liberating for individuals in the crowd, but we know even less about how and why people participate in these labor arrangements. Why? Because few scholars have bothered to ask the crowd these kinds of questions.

Brabham is one of the few academics studying crowdsourcing, particularly the motivations of the crowd. I like to think a more serious study of crowdsourcing as exploitive is necessary too.

via BuzzFeed’s The Best Egypt Protest Signs From Around The World

via BuzzFeed’s The Best Egypt Protest Signs From Around The World

Reclaim The Cyber-Commons →

They are the online equivalent of enclosure riots: the rick-burning, fence-toppling protests by English peasants losing their rights to the land. When MasterCard, Visa, Paypal and Amazon tried to shut WikiLeaks out of the cyber-commons, an army of hackers responded by trying to smash their way into these great estates and pull down their fences.

The internet has changed nothing →

Perhaps this interview didn’t do him justice, but from what I can tell, Tapscott is part of the tradition of experts on university education who ignore what actually goes on in universities. Put another way, I have been in and around universities my entire life, and the place that Tapscott describes as the modern university is utterly unrecognizable to me.

Here, for example, is Tapscott describing a typical university classroom:

The formula goes like this: “I’m a professor and I have knowledge. You’re a student you’re an empty vessel and you don’t. Get ready, here it comes. Your goal is to take this data into your short-term memory and through practice and repetition build deeper cognitive structures so you can recall it to me when I test you.”

This is straw-man anti-intellectualism at its very worst and, sadly, one hears it all the time. Except from actual professors that is. I don’t know any professor who thinks that the only or, indeed, primary purpose of teaching is to fill empty heads with temporary knowledge. Every professor I know thinks that knowledge is important, of course, and that students need to learn some basics of the discipline in order to make sense of it, but there is wide agreement among academics that the real purpose of education is to enable higher order thinking about literature, or ethics, or physics, or whatever the discipline may be.

How the Internet Organizes the Unemployed →

"Curiously, considering the persistence of high unemployment, and all kinds of evidence that unemployed people are going online in huge numbers to find help (they have more spare time than the average person, don’t forget), there’s very little sign that anybody—government, labor unions, or other kinds of political organization—is explicitly trying to connect with the unemployed using the web. Other than the International Association of Machinists, which has a somewhat odd project called UCubed (more on this below), the big unions prefer to talk on their websites about jobs, not unemployment. The word doesn’t even appear on the AFL-CIO’s home page."