Part 6 - Crowdsourcing Cultures/Customs and What That Means for Designers and The Economy
There is little to hope for in the emerging crowdsourcing ecology when it comes to quality design. It appears that the social and cultural value of a Creative Class is underestimated at every turn and diminishing. Consider the contest movement, a crowdsourcing protocol that seeks to engage “designers” to create high quality products which are then judged in a contest with other designs. An example is http://99designs.com/, which is a site that hosts competitions in which Creatives can compete. While the products occasionally demonstrate thoughtful design, there is no offer of material compensation to the authors of these items beyond “winning of a contest.” The only winners are the entrepreneurs who were able to launch the site and acquire the attention of the crowd. The losers are the social community that has lost contact with the knowledge base of members of the Creative Class who cultivate a sense of purpose and a skill set that formerly allowed them to achieve products of quality. The proof of this lies in the detritus that litters the contest websites and design repositories such as http://www.thingiverse.com/.
The loss endured by the larger community by the exclusion of design leadership and the rise of popular (read “unsophisticated and unedited”) opinion as the standard by which ideas, services and products are judged is captured in the spiritual demise of the “Do it Yourself” movement. DIY culture emerged as a protest against the force-feeding of the public on manufactured products with increasingly diminished quality in design or execution. Do-it-yourselfers were individuals who regarded their individual talents and sensibilities as the appropriate guide for their work. But, this has been coopted by the crowdsourcing protocol. Now, instead of doing it oneself, DIY is being pitched as the ability to assemble what is essentially a manufactured product, whether it be a physical object or a virtual one. There is rarely an opportunity to intervene in ways more fundamental than deciding what day of the week or hour of the day the DIY activity will take place. It is entirely scripted as a process. Its only redeeming quality is that it utilizes the free labor and, often, the materials need to perform the work. The DIY movement has free labor given by two groups, the people posting the DIY content and the people using the content since they are partaking in “Do It Yourself” work and therefore they become the material provider, manufacturer, designer, help center and advertisement team all rolled into one. Sites such as https://diy.org/featured only give the users a platform to interact on. Everything else is done, created and made by the consumers. The creators of the site are making revenue (for instance by selling advertising space) merely by using the efforts of the users interacting with the site.
There is no doubt that crowdsourcing offers great potential for change in the way we identify and initiate challenging and meaningful tasks. Our production environment will be powerfully influenced by the mass of data that informs every aspect of work. But there is a downside. From the debilitating effects of poorly compensated and undervalued Creatives to the deleterious impact of a work ethic based on the pursuit of entertainment and fun, we seem destined to have diminished quality in the ideas, services, content and products to which we have access through the internet. Social media and the primacy it asserts for the value of the crowd also threaten to diminish our critical faculties. Our culture might end up internalizing crowdsourced opinions to such an extent that any deviation from the average tastes and ideas of the crowd will be considered strange. It will be unfashionable to have a mind of one’s own. But, the crowd wants what the crowd wants.