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thing of the past | thing to come

What: The rallying of massive decentralized and often anonymous effort through internet appeal, often (and controversially) called "crowdsourcing." The term, a blend of "crowd" and "outsourcing," was coined by Wired reporter Jeff Howe in the June 2006 article "The Rise of Crowdsourcing".

Why: As escribitionists like myself often note, neologisms come and go, and more's the better: If I never hear the portmanteau words staycation, glocalization, and McJob again, I will die a happier man. But some stick around, and we become better for it. In 2006, Wired described a trend that needed naming, because it fundamentally shifted the nature of work. At least until the price of fresh water surpasses it, the cost of labor will always be the most important economic reality on the planet. A project, no matter how noble, requires effort that may not be available for a price that a coordinator can meet. Take, for example, the search for extraterrestrial life in the universe. There are two ways we could get the computing power to scan the heavens: pay for more dedicated radio-telescope analysis systems than we could afford, or ask everyone in the world to help. As the internet went stratospheric, it became possible to reach a large enough audience that collaborators could investigate a government scandal, map the world, or find survivors of a natural disaster. Through controlled applications of chaos theory and Warhol's law, everyone is now a resource for everyone.

Impact: By changing how work works, crowdsourcing has given us a serious question: what if the price of labor is zero? Don't we as a society need people to be paid for their endeavors? The answer, I think, is that sometimes we do and sometimes we don't. Let's take encyclopedias: Is Encyclopedia Britannica hurt by the existence of Wikipedia? Perhaps, but as long as the expectation of crowdsourced quality is suspect, those who are paid to work will be more respected than those who are not. The more interesting question, then, is are we raising a generation of people who hold that ideal? If people want creativity without lag time, answers without expertise, and fundraising without banks, then crowdsourcing will take root. We will become a nation of people expecting everything delivered by strangers at the touch of a button. Maybe we already are.

Personal Connection: If there's a person who's more of a sucker for crowdsourced projects, I haven't met them. I'm an admin on Wikipedia, a contributor to crowdsourced anthologies, and an advocate of microfinance. I've started an entire puzzle website for Wired (there's that magazine again) based on the principle that puzzle people want to tell puzzle people about puzzle things. When a project like the3six5—365 bloggers, 365 essays, 365 days—asks me to join the fun, I can't resist. I don't want to be part of something bigger than me; I want to be part of everything bigger than me. So, if you'd like my help with something, all you have to do is get a thousand other people to help first. Then I'm all yours.

Other Contenders: retronym, a neologism defining neologisms forced to exist due to the creation of later phrases, like "black-and-white TV," "acoustic guitar," "d6," and my favorite, "meatspace"; Keyshawning, cashiering a football player after repeated abuses, named for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' treatment of malcontented receiver Keyshawn Johnson; two keepers from pop songs, unboyfriendable from The Magnetic Fields' "All My Little Words" and interactiveodular from Raffi's "Banana Phone"; Santorum, a sexual term that Stranger columnist Dan Savage named for anti-homosexual Congressman Rick Santorum that... well, don't say I didn't warn you.


( 12 comments — Agree or disagree? )
Sep. 26th, 2010 03:41 pm (UTC)
Can you make one logism out of the letters in "NEO LOGISM"?
Before we go further, it's probably best to define our term. A neologism is a new word. Then again, every word was new once. When Adam was shouting out "That there's a cow!" to all the people he didn't speak to in whatever language he was making up, he was forming new words. But a neologism is something different. It's usually a pastiche (or portmanteau, named for the piece of luggage) of two or more words or roots that define a combination of the two concepts. Hence, crowd + outsourcing = crowdsourcing.

Generally, if the coiner thinks he or she is being clever, that's a neologism.
Sep. 26th, 2010 03:49 pm (UTC)
The portmanteau that still makes me shudder for some reason, years after first hearing it, is "Webinar". But "glocalization", which I hadn't heard until this post, is pretty awful too.
Sep. 26th, 2010 03:53 pm (UTC)
"Webinar" is indeed awful. Each time I've been asked to do one of those, I turn it down. It's kind of like my French dip rule. If you don't respect me when you bring the subject up, I doubt you'll respect me when I follow through either.

"Glocalization" makes me think of "glucolization," which has something to do with leukemia-ridden blood cells. So no on that as well.
Sep. 26th, 2010 10:13 pm (UTC)
I see (and agree with) your "glocalization" and raise you a "metrosexual".

I think I twitched the first time I heard that one. The details on Wikipedia's page for it do not help its case.
Sep. 27th, 2010 04:27 am (UTC)
I don't hate that one as much. It's less offensive than it is twee.
Sep. 27th, 2010 04:56 am (UTC)
I think I just got overly annoyed by how it seemed like a concept that didn't really need a word.

There are plenty of older words that got close enough to the concept, but they've fallen into disuse. I need to remember that that's really just the nature of a living language, though.
Sep. 27th, 2010 11:54 am (UTC)
At the risk of sounding a little nebulous - because I'm not entirely sure I have my finger on this thought - I think you've hit on something fundamental to the current era in the idea that future generations are growing into a society with very different expectations. I myself am in my mid-30s, and though I am often still amazed by the sheer volume of information available on the internet and how thoroughly it now affects my life, I also tend to take it for granted. And as someone who had a brief love affair with Napster back when it first made a splash, I've come to realize that, though my values have changed somewhat as I got older... my expectations have too. When I have an idea for a side quest in my D&D campaign, I will sift through online resources and messageboards looking for (free) material. If I need something specific, I'll e-mail and PM and post on said messageboards until I get something useful.

The bass player in my blues band has a YouTube channel that he has devoted to showcases different models of bass guitars. He started it a couple years ago, just because he thought it would be fun to film different people at the local Guitar Center playing different instruments, and because he couldn't find a good resource online for how different basses looked, played and sounded. He now has over a thousand subscribers around the world, many of whom live in countries where they don't have a local music store where they can check out an instrument in person before putting their money down for it. The point is... he provides a free service, on his own terms, that people truly appreciate, as a labor of love.

My 15-year-old daughter is already a bit of a "Google-girl". If she wants to know anything, she just looks it up on the Internet. Wikipedia is a family favorite in our home. And you wanna hear a song? Go to YouTube. (Not great quality, but you still get to hear it.) TV shows? Hulu. (Same story.) And for those who really want it, just about anything is available for free nowadays. Which isn't the point... I'm not trying to talk values, just expectations.
Sep. 27th, 2010 01:44 pm (UTC)
You've made me notice that this entry seems to have a lot to do with this one on copyrights. The nature of work is changing on many more fronts than I perceive it to be, I expect. Giving away things used to be a personal act. Now it's a global one. (Perhaps even a "glocal" one.)

Your comment about lower-quality YouTube videos suggests your daughter is willing to accept imperfection as a price of imperfection. If someone tells her that the information she read on Wikipedia had a flaw, she probably says, "Well, that's Wikipedia." Can you imagine saying that about Encyclopedia Britannica? For all I know, maybe she can.
Sep. 27th, 2010 06:38 pm (UTC)
Happy Birthday!
Sep. 27th, 2010 06:41 pm (UTC)
Sep. 27th, 2010 09:33 pm (UTC)
I actually have no problem with "McJob"; I think it characterizes a particular thing very nicely. The one that makes my flesh crawl, as much for the concept as for the word itself, is "advertorial" *shudder*.

When I did some freelance design work for a horse park in Dubai, I coined the term "equitainment", and dubbed myself the vice president thereof. Sadly, neither the word nor title stuck.

And seconding the best wishes for your birthday!
Sep. 27th, 2010 10:01 pm (UTC)
Around here, I am also vice president of horseplay.
( 12 comments — Agree or disagree? )


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