In Week 3 we learned about how companies and businesses were able to exploit data mining, in Joel Stein’s “Data Mining: How Companies Know Everything About You,” and teenagers’ social activity, in the PBS documentary Generation Like, in order to better focus their advertising campaigns. It comes as no surprise then that the opening of Jean Burgess’s article, “All Your Chocolate Rain Are Belong to Us,” discusses how companies and marketers are using “viral marketing” in an “attempt to exploit the network effects of word-of-mouth and Internet communication in order to induce a massive number of users to pass on marketing ‘messages’ and brand information ‘voluntarily’” (1). These same entities are already using the skateboarding videos and social media sharing practices of teenagers to create more visibility for their product, and as Burgess describes, they are attempting to do the same with crowdsourcing, or what Burgess analogously refers to as “participatory culture.”
Like data mining, crowdsourcing and participatory culture are a godsend for the marketing departments of big businesses, giving them another avenue for helping to move more product from the shelves. But in a far more sinister twist, crowdsourcing also helps to cut expenses for these companies without having to reinvest it in their employees. In what Nicholas Carr refers to as “The Cult of the Amateur” in his article “The amorality of Web 2.0,” the untrained and unpaid freelancing blogger has become more well-liked and venerated by the public at large, negating the influence of the professional journalist. “The promoters of Web 2.0 venerate the amateur and distrust the professional,” says Carr. “We see it in their unalloyed praise of Wikipedia, and we see it in their worship of open-source software and myriad other examples of democratic creativity.” The same goes for any profession that can be executed online, as Jeff Howe demonstrates in his article “The Rise of Crowdsourcing,” in which iStockPhoto, Mechanical Turk, and Web Junk 20 are endangering the job market for photographers, programmers, and on-air talent.
The upshot of all of this is that professionals like Mark Harmel, profiled in “The Rise of Crowdsourcing, find that the lifetime of skills and training that they have acquired in order to make a livelihood are becoming useless as the job market for their skills dry up in favor of amateurs who just bought a camera. Meanwhile companies like iConclude reap huge profits by paying pennies on the dollar for the work of these amateurs, as this ending episode in Howe’s article demonstrates:
Gupta turns his laptop around to show me a flowchart on his screen. “This is what we were paying $2,000 for. But this one,” he says, “was authored by one of our Turkers.” I ask how much he paid. His answer: “Five dollars.”
Do you think crowdsourcing provides a legitimate tradeoff of the livelihood of professionals for more convenience in regards to online services? Do you find it ironic that people laud amateurism and crowdsourcing, when its foremost beneficiaries are established businesses which are hated in this country? And how would you react if you were in the shoes of professionals like Mark Harmel who are losing business due to crowdsourcing and collaboration?