Crowdsourced Data: Actionable Insights or Distorted Information?

Crowdsourced Data Actionable Insights or Distorted Information (1)

"People outside should be seen as part of your system rather than customers or complainers. They are people who work with you. You have to be transparent and more open. If you have the culture in place and the process is in place, then you can succeed." - Paul Sloane, author of "A Guide to Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing"

Consumers generate 500 million Tweets and 6 billion Facebook "likes" per day. Clearly, we are living in an unprecedented era of public opinion sharing. But this reality goes far beyond the social media gazing that many people engage in to pass the time. The mammoth quantity of crowdsourced data being generated is increasingly harnessed by the media industry to gain incredible insights and sophisticated projections about the rapidly-evolving preferences and expectations of the modern consumer.

There are a vast range of potential use cases for crowdsourced data. Journalism crowdsourcing holds the ability to change the manner in which information is reported to the general public. Generally, crowdsourcing in journalism refers to a specific call-out for action, whether in an unstructured format, such as an open invitation to vote or contact a journalist with information, to structured inquiries seeking responses to a specific request. Although this concept is relatively new, many benefits are already clear. The enhanced ability to accurately follow breaking news stories in real-time via crowdsourced data allows journalists to convey important information to the masses at remarkable speeds. And when it comes to news that is less time-sensitive, crowdsourcing provides newsrooms with the means to build audience entry points at every stage of the process, from assigning stories to data mining, and from utilizing specialized expertise to generate content all the way to continuing engagement through post-publication conversations.

Although it may initially seem surprising, a growing number of publishers are discovering value in crowdsourcing content. Born of the self-publishing movement, it provides an open forum for authors' works while using readers as a filter for both quality and market testing. Part of the concept is that adopting crowdsourcing platforms will empower readers and authors, thereby reducing the move to platforms that are strictly self-publishing.

And the value of crowdsourced data goes far beyond the aforementioned examples. From improving traffic flow via Waze to companies seeking innovative solutions for existing products and technologies, such as Samsung, crowdsourcing carries the potential to radically alter the way we conduct business and our daily lives.

A myriad of platforms utilizing crowdsourced data have been introduced, such as Grasswire, which provides first-hand and verified information crowdsourced from Twitter users in real-time, and Project Agos, created with the goal of improving responses before, during, and after typhoons and other natural disasters. Newzulu is another fascinating app, described as "a community of over 150,000 professional and citizen journalists who share and break news to the world as it happens." And while these platforms manage the data, they would cease to be useful without the input of those who supply the information.

But wait, is crowdsourcing all positive?

Unfortunately, no. As is the case in any scenario involving information garnered from largely anonymous sources, weeding out the true data from that which has been uploaded for ulterior motives or is simply incorrect is the challenge, and achieving accuracy isn't easy. A well-known example of this problem occurred with Yelp when the company came to realize that some businesses were hiring people to write positive reviews, thereby significantly interfering with the value of the data.

However, correctly applying the right data management tools can relieve this problem, with a focus on assessing the quality and authenticity of information during the analysis phase. With comprehensive tools in place to ensure that the highest possible percentage of input being used is accurate, crowdsourced data holds the key to a new world of innovations in the media industry.

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