It is not uncommon nor is it not horrifyingly cliche’ for a speech – celebrating another, to begin with a flattering quote taken from the Oxford Dictionary – ‘The Oxford Dictionary defines excellence as blah blah blah…’.
Well for sanity’s sake I’d like to mix it up slightly and begin this blog with a quote about the Oxford Dictionary.
So here we go….
‘The Oxford Dictionary may provide one of the earliest examples of crowdsourcing. In the mid-19th century, an open call for volunteers was made for contributions identifying all words in the English language and example quotations exemplifying their usages. They received over six million submissions over a period of 70 years.”
Crowd sourced information gathering is not unique to our day and age (although it was ‘officially’ coined by Jeff Howe in 2006) but its effectiveness in producing democratic(ish) results has sky rocketed thanks to the spread of the Internet worldwide. And whilst it’s easy to get wrapped up in the euphoric idea of an information nirvana where the truth reigns supreme and those who try to deceive others are shrouded in ridicule, it should be remembered that we aren’t only living in the information age, but also the misinformation age.
Why Crowdsourcing Can Work
Most of us are familiar with how Wikipedia works – articles can be created and edited by anyone often resulting in published inaccuracies.
Whilst to many, this process may seem anarchic (see most comments on a youtube video) one would assume that Wikipedia’s model for knowledge curation would be slippery at best.
In late 2005, the scientific journal Nature conducted a study comparing 42 science articles in Wikipedia with the online version of Encyclopaedia Britannica. The survey revealed that Encyclopaedia Britannica had 123 errors while Wikipedia had 162. For the editors at Britannica, that was a little too close for comfort.
Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia founder isn’t surprised by Wikipedia’s accuracy as he believes that, on the whole, when it comes to matters of knowledge, self-governance and treating others with respect, the good will out number the bad in spades.
Inaccuracies do make their way onto the pages of Wikipedia, but through a carefully managed ‘Article-for-Deletion’ process, these facts are debated and removed if they are proved to be untrue.
Today the role of the digital moderator has become increasingly important, especially in scientific/academic realm where peer review and fact checking has been strictly implemented for centuries.
In 2005, Reddit was introduced to the world.
A Bulletin Board System (BBS) which includes a user controlled voting mechanism to push popular content to the top of the page and the least popular content towards the bottom. This style of crowd moderation has made the site increasingly popular.
The key power of Reddit is its ability to be divided into areas of interest. Reddit boasts a large number of ‘sub-reddits’ – pages which focus on one theme. For example, reddit.com/r/worldnews or reddit.com/r/moviequotes. The number of sub-reddits has grown into the 100,000’s and can vary from themes such as /r/EarthPorn (beautiful images of our planet) to /r/LearnFinnish.
One sub-reddit that is of special interest to me is /r/AskHistorians.
This site is currently claiming to be the #1 website for information and discussion of our collective history, but what is so fascinating to me is the intense level of fact checking and verification that is maintained by volunteer moderators to ensure that the information on this sub-reddit’s page remains accurate.
These volunteers work exceptionally hard to ensure that opinions from users who can display a certain degree of knowledge in this field are published. For example, if you begin your post with ‘Well… I’m no historian but I think…’ your post will be deleted.
The above image shows the efforts taken by the /r/AskHstorians moderators to ensure that misinformation is kept to a minimum, even if the ones providing the information have the best of intentions.
As more and more (mis)information and content spreads across the digital landscape, the role of the digital moderator will grow dramatically from providing simple functions such as removal of offensive comments to something much closer to the peer review standards practiced in academic circles.
For those interested in further information on Reddit – http://anphicle.com/reddit-review/