I live in worlds outside of this

If you’ve been following events in the crowdfunding or online tech startup worlds at all, you might have heard of the controversy surrounding Healbe GoBe, an over $1m Indiegogo campaign to fund a device that medical science says can’t possibly work. A startup-focused news site called PandoDaily has been leading the charge on the investigation into Healbe’s possibly fraudulent campaign, and it hasn’t looked good on Indiegogo at all.

A little under a fortnight after the first article ran, Indiegogo responded by modifying the anti-fraud guarantee on its website so that the wording was less absolute. A day later, Pando reported on another Indiegogo campaign which had been funded less than six months earlier, also appears to be medically impossible if it can do everything it claims, and for which the company responsible for the device, TellSpec, has since completely reset the clock on the development of a product they originally claimed to have nearly perfected. A parody of the Healbe GoBe campaign was created called ‘Miracle Health Bracelet: Vaguely Track Your Health, Fitness and More’ which made it past Indiegogo’s supposed anti-fraud algorithm, though it has since been removed. Finally, to cap everything off, Pando reported yesterday that the undisclosed donation which pushed Healbe’s calorie counter over the brink of $1 million came from none other than Indiegogo’s chief of hardware, Kate Drane. Clearly, Indiegogo is determined to throw its full weight behind this campaign in spite of all the negative press, scientific debunking and waves of requests for backer refunds.

There have been arguments made on both sides, some saying that Indiegogo needs to take responsibility for the campaigns promoted on its platform and others saying that it can’t be held liable for what the crowd decides to put its money behind. Either way, the Healbe controversy is bound to have a knock-on effect on Indiegogo’s credibility and the willingness of consumers to back other products on its site. After all, there are plenty of other crowdfunding sites out there with innovative projects, products and ventures. But how can you be sure that they won’t have the same problem?

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As you might have gathered from previous posts on this blog, I’m constantly fascinated by the innovative ways in which different projects on the Internet make use of crowds. I’ve covered Tomnod’s use of crowdsourcing in global crises and the “crowdplaying” of Twitch Plays Pokémon. Then on 1st April, xkcd – “A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language” – upped the ante with an interactive, crowdsourced comic strip called Lorenz.

Edward Lorenz, after whom the comic is titled, was an American mathematician and meteorologist. He was a pioneer of chaos theory and coined the term “butterfly effect”, which describes a tiny variable altering events to eventually produce a much more dramatic result, such as a butterfly flapping its wings and eventually causing a hurricane. The comic’s title text (a caption produced by hovering over the strip with your mouse) directly references the butterfly effect, reading, “Every choice, no matter how small, begins a new story.” The comic’s storyline is also dependent on user-submitted dialogue and click statistics and is therefore chaotic in nature.

The comic begins with an image of an individual (their gender has been the subject of much discussion on the Explain xkcd Talk Page, and they are largely agreed to be female based on them being referred to as a “lady” in one line of dialogue. However, as the dialogue is user-submitted, this is not definitive) at their computer. The user is given a choice of four phrases, randomly ordered, for the character to say:

lorenz1

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Last Friday was my birthday (hooray, another year older!) and as I move more into the world of journalism with the aim of hopefully doing a postgraduate course in it next academic year, I asked for a couple of books on the subject. One of those was We the Media: Grassroots Journalism By the People, For the People by Dan Gillmor. First printed in 2004, with the paperback edition that I now own printed in 2006, it’s a little out of date for the fast-moving world of information technology, but is still held in extremely high regard, and I think it’ll be a worthwhile read. It was also written with a rather different audience to myself in mind: one for whom the idea of receiving real-time journalistic updates from inside a press conference or significant world event would be a revelation; who would find the idea that ordinary people might have a voice and views of importance equal to that of designated newsmakers to be controversial; and to whom the Internet must seem like a chaotic, volatile upstart muscling in on the orderly, established world of media.

I grew up on the Internet, and its language and ways are second nature to me. The journalism I’m most familiar with is not heavily-regulated and polished ‘Big Media’ but ever-fluctuating, ever-evolving online journalism, which is not a lecture but a conversation, and one in which the people play a part as important as that of the newsmakers. Online, news breaks first via the people, and newsmakers have to listen to them to find out what’s going on, instead of the other way around.

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In an amazing feat, the chaotic channel chatters at Twitch Plays Pokémon have succeeded in completing Pokémon Crystal in just thirteen days. That’s all sixteen badges, plus a win against the Johto League, rival Silver, and finally Red – and not the Red of the canon Pokémon games, but Red of Twitch Plays, with the iconic team of Zapdos, Lapras, Nidoking, Venomoth, Omastar and Pigeot. As with the first Twitch Plays, a wealth of fanworks has been created around the new team and their individual personalities, their struggles and their losses. If you missed the action, here are ten fancomics which together tell the story of Gold’s – and his Pokémon’s – journey across Johto and Kanto, all the while struggling with the legends of their predecessors and a constant stream of contradictory feedback from “the voices”. (I might have sneaked in an epilogue as well ;) )

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Crowdsourcing a Crisis

Last entry I talked about the evolution of “crowdthings” – such as crowdsourcing and crowdwisdom – which bring together the vast amounts of people connected by the Internet to achieve a complex task, or even just to carry out a simple task in an unforeseen way. Now we’re seeing the power of crowdsourcing in a crisis as the online public helps out in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

How are they able to do that? The answer lies in a website called Tomnod, which allows its users to scour footage captured by satellite imaging company DigitalGlobe in a bid to locate anything that might be of interest to the search parties. Users helping with the search for flight MH370, which vanished without a trace four days ago, have the option of tagging what they think could be wreckage, life rafts, an oil slick or “anything interesting or suspicious” in 3,200 km² of satellite imagery, in which each pixel represents 50cm of space. The site gives visual examples of the items in question, in order to clue users in about what to look for.

malaysian airlines crowdsourcing YOU CAN HELP: Experts start crowdsourcing to find missing Malaysia Airlines plane.

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The Evolution of Crowdthings

“Crowdsourcing is the process by which the power of the many can be leveraged to accomplish feats that were once the province of a specialised few.” – Jeff Howe

On the Internet today, we see an awful lot of things with the word “crowd” in front of them. It makes sense – after all, the Internet is about bringing vast amounts of people together from all around the world to make new things possible. The most exciting thing about being online is seeing what innovative results can come from combining those people with the wonders of technology and a few ingenious ideas.

The word crowdsourcing itself is very much a product of the Internet age, as it was coined by Jeff Howe in a 2006 Wired magazine article, ‘The Rise of Crowdsourcing’, and later given a more refined definition in his blog. You could argue that each of the terms I discuss in this blog post is just a variant form of crowdsourcing, but I think they warrant being considered separately, because by and large they’ve evolved beyond the point where they fit Howe’s definition at the top there, and instead have taken on a life and characteristics of their own.

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February 15, 2014: truly a day for the fandom history books. Why? Because by pure serendipity, two milestone events for the fandom community have collided on the exact same day. One is “Fandompocalypse Day”, an movement to unite fans of disparate fandoms in a joint show of pride and unity; the other is the user-oriented, not-for-profit multimedia fanworks site Archive Of Our Own reaching one million published works.

ao3million-caitie

Both events celebrate the diverse and unifying nature of fandom in different ways: Fandompocalypse aims to bring the fandom movement offline with a visual display of fandom support in day-to-day life, while the “ao3million” celebrations are purely online, based around graphics, Twitter hashtags and uploading new fanworks to the site. Nevertheless, the spirit of enjoyment and sharing the fandom love is exactly the same.

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