Community Essay: Why we should avoid the term 'crowdsourcing'

This is an experimental “community essay” – anyone can edit and update it.  It’s probably best to only try to strengthen the argument here, and if you disagree with the argument, it will be better to start an alternative essay which puts forward the opposite point of view.

The word ‘crowdsourcing’ is frequently used to describe collaborative community efforts, but here at WikiTribune we should avoid the term.  Here’s why.

The term ‘crowdsourcing’ comes from the word ‘outsourcing’ which means moving work from a high wage country to a low wage country.  The idea of ‘crowdsourcing’ is to find the cheapest labor of all by tricking the general public into doing your work for free.  It’s inherently a demeaning term in the sense that the central organization is putting forward work to be done and getting people to do it for free.

Consider a community garden. Use of the term ‘crowdsourcing’ in this context implies the owner of the plot of land is exploiting the collective work of the gardeners for direct personal benefit, like charging admission to the garden. Instead, we all understand a community garden to be an altruistic and democratic endeavor, where some members of the community contribute in the best way they can, and the whole community benefits. The owner of the plot of land is there to support the community, organizing group activities, and providing tools for the volunteers to use. The community is the focus.

In the context of WikiTribune, we know people want to participate in building a better service for others to learn about the world.  They don’t want to be used as free labor.  They want to build things that they find interesting, and they want to make a difference.  They want the journalists on staff to be resources they can use to do the parts that are too hard to do from home.  They don’t want to be managed, they want to manage.

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