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As prescient as was Toffler's Future Shock (and later The Third Wave), this new work from Howe offers clear indications of the many way(s) in which current trends in the use of the Internet are already affecting the radical remodeling of our human artistic, industrial and economic activities. As exciting, inclusive, and opportunistic an eventuality this is for the future, Howe's Crowdsourcing clearly demonstrates that it is already proving to be so for many 'digital natives' and their investors; for others, 'crowdsourcing' as currently envisaged by Howe, may prove to usher the curtain call for many a traditional profession.
Indeed, much of the effects of crowdsourcing is already underway, and the author presents many salient examples of such as already exist, with significant effects plainly visible to any keen observer wishing to acknowledge the 'new democracies' emerging in a variety of fields and 'professions'. Facilitated principally by the advent of the Internet, and relatively cheap and accessible technological tools requiring little/no special training or long-term apprenticeship in their use, increasingly large numbers of web-connected computer users are also now beginning to exert a significant effect upon their nation's economies. Advertisers, sales and marketing professionals are thus either 'in' or 'out' quite quickly these days. For example, since the advent of desk-top publishing, it is now possible for a single person to generate a camera-copy quality magazine for ready distribution, to a truly international audience, from their own home -- a feat previously requiring the work of 10s if not 100s of specialist professionals operating within a strict hierarchical infrastructure, and with the oversight of (possible invisible) executive editorial control. But the true power of 'crowdsourcing' (a term first used by Howe in a series of articles he written for Wired magazine, since 2006), derives not merely from this new techno-savvy group of users, but in their ability and willingness to generate (and disseminate) new content. Revealed (correctly in this reviewers opinion) as 'design by democracy' [in the case of 'amateur' artists-users-purchaser groups of like minded individuals submitting, commenting and voting upon each others product/service proposals], 'vocational democratization' [wherein like minds volunteer their 'spare time' to multi-task as online community operators working on a variety of unsolved problems of interest to their science or specialist domain], or even a new 'knowledge economy' [whereby new information is generated, shared, filtered and reorganized at a speed, reliability and efficiency never before imagined]. …And these are just a few of the many examples Howe shares, and more than adequately illustrates throughout his text.
The key observation of Howe, is his address to this new development of 'user-generated content' as giving rise to a very different level of quality, as well as the sheer quantity of products and ideas for implementation within fields traditionally inaccessible to the majority or people. And whereas some household names such as Hoover, Tanoy and IBM once enjoyed synonymity with their products, today the likes of Google, Amazon.com, iStock Photo and YouTube have become synonymous with their users products and review recommendations, as perpetuated by those individual product's popularity and reputation with use. Some social critics may pass this current era of fascination with such online 'opinion engines' off as a mere fashion phase (even an anti-corporate fetish feast, a la Michael Moore ?), but I agree with Howe in that there will be no going back to the industrial age even if the interest be short lived. The sheer number of people now involved in user-generated content on a daily basis (and with the means for distribution also readily at their fingertips), together with the vast array of diverse opinions being filtered and shared will continue to exert an ever increasing effect upon their observers. In this sense, the customers (consumers/users) are becoming, and in some domains have already become, the new producers and distributors. As this increases, the role of the traditional middle-man will in turn become of less significance to the new, more techno-savvy, informed, digital natives [e.g., the average 15 yr old student is now quite capable of studio quality web-site construction, video and audio production, and upload their products to MySpace and YouTube for others' comments); well organized 'amateur field correspondents' can build and distribute online newspapers and special interest magazines; scientists are being assisted in their work by accepting 'computing hardware use time' online (SETI@home); School teachers can significantly reduce test preparation and marking loads by having their students use automated (yet customizable) online teaching and assessment programs such as e@Leader Brainboxes; Investors can be encouraged to contribute funding directly to specific development projects of interest to them, assured that the developers benefit directly from their sources, without the mediation of credit agencies, loan sharks, or even the traditional stock-markets (which take a significant cut for themselves, and thus benefit neither developer nor investor)].
Also available in print from Crown Business Books, the current reviewer enjoyed the audio presentation very much (as read by Kirby Heyborne) across three sessions -- during which copious notes and references were made -- and was very inclined to also acquire the book for his shelf and citation index referencing. Although 'crowdsourcing ' is not presented as the next 'outsourcing', I strongly recommend that this book be read widely, and the significance of its content thoroughly understood, lest there be cause for complaint when the day comes that we each find our currently chosen vocations to be possibly without audience or customer base.
© 2009 Tony Dickinson
Dr. Tony Dickinson, Academic Research Laboratory, People Impact International Inc, February, 2009.
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