studied the resulting social interaction
and is using the data to formulate more
advanced wartime strategies.
Advantages and Disadvantages
“Crowdsourcing offers both advantages and disadvantages,” Ushahidi’s
Meier points out. “It is very efficient—
with the right community in place—at
gathering information quickly and effectively. It can help speed response
and cut through the confusion that occurs during the initial stage of a disaster. It can quickly fill the information
gap.” What’s more, he says, traditional
surveys and techniques require more
time and expense—often with less impressive results.
Meier says that concerns about the
over the last few
accuracy of data aren’t unfounded.
“One of the challenges is developing
trusted sources,” he says. Of course,
it’s not possible to vet everyone. And re-
stricting who posts data online defeats
the entire purpose of crowdsourcing.
In addition, some errors and inaccu-
racies are inevitable, even from well-
meaning participants. “You have to op-
erate under the assumption that most
people are honest and most informa-
tion is accurate,” he adds. “But it’s nec-
essary to build in a margin for error.”
Another challenge is publicizing a
crowdsourcing platform and establish-
ing a network of volunteers. It’s a task
that requires significant money, time,
and effort—something that many non-
governmental organizations lack. Lee
says that organizations typically publi-
cize efforts any way they can—through
press releases, a Web site, and word of
mouth. However, higher participation
rates translate into a greater volume
has been used
to monitor local
elections in india, map
incidences of violence
in Pakistan, and track
in the Philippines.
of data, but sorting through it to spot
what’s relevant and useful can prove
taxing. “Managing the process can be
difficult,” he admits.
Nevertheless, crowdsourcing continues to advance—and involve increasingly complex issues. In some cases researchers and computer scientists
are attempting to attack age-old questions and challenges in new ways—and
gain fresh perspectives. For example,
when Vinay Deolalikar, a renowned
computer scientist at Hewlett-Packard
labs, sent an email to top researchers
claiming that P doesn’t equal NP, it
generated considerable interest.
But then, once the issue hit the blog
of Richard J. Lipton, a computational
complexity expert at the Georgia In-
stitute of Technology, interest among
other researchers and a lay audience
peaked. An informal peer review pro-
cess followed. Participants discovered
errors and the level of interaction and
exchange exceeded that of any tra-
ditional process. In the end, one re-
searcher described the entire episode
as a “Nerd Super Bowl.”
Clearly, crowdsourcing is here to
stay. “It is changing the way govern-
ment, corporations, and others tackle
complex issues and problems,” Lee
notes. “It is leading to an entirely dif-
ferent mindset about how product de-
velopment, problem solving, and deci-
sion making take place.”
Crowdsourcing as a model for problem
solving: an introduction and cases,
Convergence: The International Journal of
Research into New Media Technologies 14,
1, Feb. 2008.
Crowdsourcing the public participation
process for planning projects, Planning
Theory 8, 3, August 2009.
Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd
is Driving the Future of Business, Random
house, new York, 2008.
Lakhani, K.R., Jeppesen, L.B.,
Lohse, J.A, and Panetta, P.A.
The value of openness in scientific problem
solving, harvard Business School Working
Knowledge, October 2006.
Leimeister, J.M., Huber, M.,
Bretschneider, U., and Krcmar, H.
Leveraging crowdsourcing: activation-supporting components for IT-based
ideas competition, Journal of Management
Information Systems 26, 1, Summer 2009.
Samuel Greengard is an author and freelance writer
based in West Linn, OR.
© 2011 ACM 0001-0782/11/0200 $10.00
Computer Science Awards
The international society for ethics
and information Technology
(insei T), institute of electrical
and electronics engineers (ieee),
and e. W.r. steacie Memorial Fund
recently honored leading computer
Don Gotterbarn, professor
emeritus of computer science
and director of the software
engineering ethics research
institute at east Tennessee state
University, received the 2010
insei T/Joseph Weizenbaum
award for his contributions to
the field of information and
C.A.R. Hoare, a principal
researcher at Microsoft research
Cambridge, was awarded the
John von neumann Medal for
“seminal contributions to the
scientific foundation of software
design.” Shafi Goldwasser, a
professor at Massachusetts
institute of Technology and
Weizmann institute of science,
received the emanuel Piore
award for “pioneering work in
laying the foundations of modern
cryptography and its relation to
The e. W.r. steacie Memorial
Fund presented the 2010 steacie
Prize for natural sciences to
Aaron Hertzmann, an associate
professor of computer science
at the University of Toronto.
The award is given annually
for exceptional research by a
Canadian scientist or engineer
aged 40 or younger.