Jeff Howe: [Full interview transcript]

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Jeff Howe is a journalist, currently a contributing editor at Wired Magazine and an assistant journalism professor at Northeastern University. He is credited with coining the term “crowdsourcing” in his 2006 book “The Rise of Crowdsourcing.” Read Jeff’s full bio here…

Click here to watch Jeff’s full interview, “Influence as Currency.”

Jeff: If we talk about crowdsourcing in photography, this has been a wonderful development. This has meant that all sorts of people whose latent aesthetic brilliance now has an outlet. This very same phenomenon means that thousands, I’m guessing perhaps hundreds of thousands of people who might have been able to count on contract work to support their photography. These are people who had a lot of these same talents. But they said, “no, I’m going to become a professional photographer.” They’re not amateur, they’re not supported because they happen to work as a paralegal or they’re a college professor or a plumber, who knows, and photographers on the side. No, these were people who majored in photography, who set out to create careers in photography. Well that is over for them. It’s just unfair to look at crowdsourcing, at one side of the coin without looking at the other.

Ramona: How have you seen the term change or be interpreted in different ways since you coined it?

Jeff: Oh, I mean it’s wildly misused all the time. It was almost immediately picked up by the marketing people, and so it is a word on a pitch sheet that marketing companies will send to their clients. “Oh, we’ll crowdsource it!” I mean, I guess, I don’t see those pitch sheets. This is what I’m told! I certainly see it misused in the press, and I certainly see it misused all the time on Twitter. It just became a buzzword. I’m not going into why. I mean, I have profited both financially and professionally from it becoming a buzzword, so it would be disingenuous for me to say otherwise. But along with that, it means that some people misuse it.

A crowdsourced economy?

Jeff: The Internet gave archival form, a semi-permanent form, to a lot of interactions that previously had been like dark matter. I mean, you knew that people gathered in bars, in their homes and had these discussions, or even gathered in conferences for like-minded people, and then the conference ended and everyone went away and there was no record of this. But as the Internet becomes a place for communities of affinity to come together because of their like minds, because of their attraction to a subject, it gives, essentially, it creates these new economies that we can, if not measure, at least witness. It’s not dark matter. (The Internet) basically shines a light on the dark matter, where things like reputation, things like karma, begin to actually count for something. Lots of people have lots of Twitter followers because they’re really nice, you know? It didn’t used to be like that. To the extent that Twitter followers are convertible to cold hard cash, and to some extent, they are. Having a lot of followers helps me here, people listen to what I have to say when I start talking about social media, because “hey look, he’s got a lot of followers!”

To the extent that these new metrics, these new media metrics – Facebook friends, Twitter followers, karma points, the simple reputation you have on the New York Times or Washington Post – these have real value. So, economists who are simply people who are interested in values of networks, are forced-slash-able to actually look at this.

It’s not that the Internet created all this stuff, it was always there, but the Internet enabled it. I think that, in very interesting ways, it enabled us to see it.

Summary:

  • Crowdsourcing has forced many would-be freelance professional photographers out of work
  • Media and marketing firms frequently misuse the term – it’s become a buzzword
  • The Internet has made it possible to witness and place value on things like karma, popularity and influence

For more, follow Jeff on Twitter @crowdsourcing.

 

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