Reddit user kleinbl00 created, organized, and moderated a subsection of the site dedicated to “favors”—small bits of expertise and/or material traded amongst the community for altruistic reasons. He offers his insights on crowdsourcing, Reddit, and some of the lessons he has learned.
- Reddit’s strength is that it very efficiently organizes discussion hierarchically. It is often crushed under its own weight, but its ability to interlink and reinforce any discussion based on popular ranking tends to refine any discussion to the most popular points.
- This is also its weakness, but if you want something to happen quickly, that’s what it does.
- In the fracas over the “mystery missile” last year, I put forth the notion that it could have been a launch from San Nicolas Island—a notion I now consider discredited, by the way. It didn’t take a couple of hours before people stationed on San Nicolas Island—a closed military facility—added their opinion and fact-checking. This is not something that happens in the New York Times comments—and if it did, you’d never know.
- Adrian Chen documented pretty succinctly the horrors inflicted on a girl who was simply trying to raise money on Reddit for cancer research. The Internet loves giving to a good cause. But if they have their trust betrayed, they unleash a torrent of unholy fury at the nameless, faceless individual on the other end of the computer who dared to make them feel human.
- I think that people love being altruistic, but they hate having to judge who is worthy of their altruism.
- One problem with crowdsourcing is that generally, there isn’t anyone willing to vouch for whether or not someone is trustworthy. But that doesn’t stop the “crowd” from expecting someone to do that job, and if no one does, the crowd will choose someone to be worthy of their wrath… and they’re seldom careful about it.
- I don’t know that anyone is an expert on crowdsourcing. I think it’s new and I think everyone is sort of puzzling out what they can.
- One good thing about crowdsourcing: you will be exposed to people you wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to, who will help you for motives you wouldn’t have expected, and who will provide assistance beyond what you would have imagined.
- Someone was having a hard time paying their heating bill. /r/favors chipped in something like $500 and helped the guy keep from freezing, but this type of thing is technically in violation of our rules. We had to ask the community if they wanted more of this, because we knew if we allowed it regularly, it would be all we’d see. The community largely agreed not to allow it.
- /r/assistance originally set itself up for just this sort of thing, but then found themselves inundated with requests from wishuponahero.org. It caused a great deal of turmoil and outrage, with people accusing the moderator there—who’s a genuinely nice and altruistic person—of favoritism for his friends.
- By surrendering its judgement to an external force, the crowd also raises its personal stakes for failure. Those approaching the crowdsourcing model need to be aware that people will work for what they believe in, but if they decide that their beliefs have been messed with, they’re much less forgiving than if they weren’t part of a crowd.
- In short, someone needs to be in charge, and they need to be aware that right or wrong, they will be held accountable by everyone working “for” them.
- Wikipedia is a spectacular resource for base-level information; crowdsourcing that information is useful. But there’s a hell of a lot more information about Harry Potter than there is about, say, Shakespeare. And controversial topics, such as abortion, are mostly noteworthy for their protracted edit wars.
- Seti@home and folding@home are excellent examples of how well crowdsourcing works for projects in which expertise is not required. Those doing the work don’t need to know a thing about what they’re doing—they just need a willingness to help.
- Jane McGonigal has an example in her book “Reality is Broken” whereby one of the British papers put up a giant info dump from Parliament for people to weed through in search of auditing irregularities. They found heaps.
- People on /r/favors generally object to favors the asker could do themselves if they spent 10 minutes with Google. They have no objections to things they can do in ten minutes in Quark or AfterFX, whereas it would take the asker six months to learn all the stuff they know.
- At the same time, people also aren’t particularly fond of posts akin to, “I recognize that this is something that I can get done for a fee, but I want people to do it as a ‘favor’ because I’m poor/cheap/wish to devalue the professional marketplace.”
- There is no industry or entity that would be better off replaced by crowdsourcing. None. Zero. Not a one. Crowdsourcing is, in many ways, an attempt to replace expertise, and it never works. Any crowdsourced project needs someone to organize it and separate the wheat from the chaff, which means that any successful crowdsourced entity quickly becomes hierarchical.
- I get truly heartbreaking e-mails sometimes. People have told me that a rant against Diet Coke had them fundamentally changing their diet and now they have more energy than they’ve had in years.
Like fireflies around a lantern, the more of us there are the more of us we attract. Assuming nobody screws up anything major, Reddit is, for all intents and purposes, where the Western Internet gets its shit together.
If you already have an active Reddit account, or you’d simply like to help out your fellow internet user, head over to /r/favors to see who could use your exact type of service.
By Seth W