Friday, November 7, 2008

In Defense of the Crowd

Jason Calacanis, in an email blast on Wednesday, wrote about the trends he sees emerging in the startup space. He noted, among other things, a virtuous drift from reliance on user generated content.

The age of crowdsourcing your way to success is over, and we're heading back to the age of expertise and curation. Startups like GoodGuide.com are not crowdsourcing--they're paying experts. When faced with two options--a professionally produced version of a product and an anonymously gamed version of the same product--it's fairly obvious which one users will select. Wikipedia has operated without a competitor for a very long time, and there is no guarantee that they will be number one forever. ;-)

I think he's wrong.

Partially, anyway.

As a general observation, I think what Jason says makes perfect sense. I'm an internet consumer, and I want expertise. I want curation. And, under the perfect circumstances, I might even be willing to pay for those things.

But, when considering sustainability in business and social and environmental responsibility, the world in which both GoodGuide and The Carrot Project are operating, I don't trust the experts. I see uncertainty and disagreement. I see imperfect comparisons. I see controversy over the relative importance of labor standards versus carbon emissions versus solid waste management.

I'd rather seek truth by motivating a transparently imperfect crowd than proclaim truth by marrying subjective science.

For starters anyway. While we're tiny and experimental and close to zero cost. Which we are right now.

So crowdsource we will. We'll figure out which sustainability experts tell us to support which companies. We'll explain and organize those recommendations. And we'll ask our users to offer opinions, voice disagreement, amend information, and otherwise donate their knowledge to the community.

Maybe we're crazy. Maybe GoodGuide's science will hit it out of the park and render much of what we're doing irrelevant.

But professional production does have limitations.

And maybe a worldsaving mission can produce a worldsaving crowd.

Note: Add your email address to Jason's list. The man has wisdom, and he communicates it clearly.

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