Home > crowdsourcing, social computing > The Limits of Crowdsourcing: A Coming of Age

The Limits of Crowdsourcing: A Coming of Age


“Then we learned why cyberspace wasn’t going to stop wars, wasn’t going to bring peace and understanding throughout the world, tra-la-la-la.” — Stacy Horn, Cyberville, 1998

Writing in 1998, Horn was retelling the story of a racist woman on Horn’s ECHO BBS who hated Korean people. After discovering her online buddy was actually Korean, she didn’t change her racist views at all.  For Horn, it was a coming of age moment.  And today we have another coming of age moment: crowdsourcing will not necessarily save the world either, and some jobs are best left to professionals.  In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, netizens on a special subreddit and from the group anonymous banded together to try to identify the bombers.  And ended up finding and harassing the wrong people.

This morning, participants on the find Boston bombers subreddit wrote:

 All this subreddit has done is make a bad situation worse.

This is why you leave important work to professionals, not kids with an internet connection and too much time on their hands.

The baseless accusations and harassment this subreddit enables is disgusting. When it actually appeared that one of the guesses here was right, there was a smug celebration over just how right you were, like you bet on the right racehorse. You aren’t helping and you should probably close this subreddit if you have any shame. I sure hope demonizing that family’s missing son was worth the couple hours where you felt like Encyclopedia Brown.

There will still be miraculous things the crowd accomplishes. Things we can not yet dream of. Things that will make you grin from ear to ear.  But not everything can be crowdsourced, and we need to temper our enthusiasm.  In the age of the amateur, we also need to honor professionalism and hone our sense of when professionals are needed.

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