I live in worlds outside of this

Posts tagged ‘crowdsourcing’

XKCD’s Butterfly Effect

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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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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