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Sometimes Crowdsourcing Draws the Stupid


By Ken Magill

Sometimes the crowd gets it right. Sometimes the crowd is downright stupid.

I’m referring to Wikipedia, of course.

First, a little background on crowdsourcing:

“Crowdsourcing is the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to an undefined, large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open call,” says the entry on crowdsourcing on Wikipedia.

“Jeff Howe, one of first authors to employ the term, established that the concept of crowdsourcing depends essentially on the fact that because it is an open call to an undefined group of people, it gathers those who are most fit to perform tasks, solve complex problems and contribute with the most relevant and fresh ideas.”

Uh, yeah.

It also draws people who haven’t a clue what they’re talking about.

Take Wikipedia’s entry on direct marketing:

“Direct marketing is a form of advertising that reaches its audience without using traditional formal channels of advertising, such as TV, newspapers or radio. Businesses communicate straight to the consumer with advertising techniques such as fliers, catalogue distribution, promotional letters, and street advertising,” begins the entry.

No TV, newspapers or radio? So our anonymous purported expert doesn’t understand coupons, infomercials and radio ads with calls to action are direct marketing?

The entry then briefly redeems itself—while at the same time contradicting itself—with an accurate statement:

“If the advertisement asks the prospect to take a specific action, for instance call a free phone number or visit a Web site, then the effort is considered to be direct response advertising.”

And then we drive off into clueless land once again:

“Direct marketing is predominantly used by small to medium-size enterprises with limited advertising budgets that do not have a well-recognized brand message,” the entry said.

Someone better tell the marketing folks at Capital One they’re doing it wrong.

And this is important, why? It’s not.

I also realize I could have edited the entry. But I chose not to. Editing it doesn’t benefit me. Rather than edit it, I chose to write about it—an action that benefits me by bringing me that much closer to meeting deadline.

Which brings me to a theory: Yes, Wikipedia draws experts, but more importantly, it draws people with time on their hands.

Anyone who has any familiarity with college and university culture knows that tenured professors can opt to have a lot of free time.

My father was a prolific—kind of maniacally driven, to be honest—mathematician with a disciplined work schedule. Some of his colleagues weren’t nearly as productive with New York State’s tax dollars, however. I know of at least one who received tenure and never published another paper.

And besides having the potential for a lot of spare time, academicians also tend to have a great deal of ego invested in their particular areas of expertise. Contributing to Wikipedia—even though it’s anonymous—is one way for academicians to stroke their own egos.

As a result, I would bet academic entries on Wikipedia probably tend to be more accurate than entries in other categories.

Which brings me back to my theory: I believe that the reason Wikipedia’s entry on direct marketing is such a hack job is because the people truly qualified to fix it either don’t have the spare time or don’t have the inclination to spend their spare time doing something involving their craft that doesn’t profit them.

Why fix Wikipedia when they can work on a money-making campaign or write a column for the trade press and get some recognition for them and/or their company?

Direct marketers think in terms of results. Wikipedia offers them none.

Academicians love to lecture. Wikipedia gives them another platform.

Author's note: I let this piece sit for three weeks to see if anyone would edit the Wikipedia entry on direct marketing. No one did. Of course, I realize that by publishing this I, have tempted the make-an-ass-of-me gods and it will more than likely get edited very quickly if it has not been already.


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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Brad Needham
Date: 2012-07-04 12:20:02
Subject: too busy vs. not caring about the public

Yes, topic experts often feel too busy to share their knowledge, and energetic, uninformed voices often drown out well-informed ones. Those problems are part of the human condition rather than a specific problem of Wikipedia or crowdsourcing.. Members of other disciplines take time to advance their discipline by informing the public; why are Direct Marketing people any different? I don't think it's a problem of being too busy; I think it's a problem of some topic experts not caring about the larger community. Not surprisingly, I think that lack of caring by Direct Marketers is why so many people hate Direct Marketing.
Posted by: Sravanthi
Date: 2011-02-23 00:45:37
Subject: No one would bother edit Wiki

Amazingly said! No one has the time to edit Wikipedia. They'd choose to do something else which is more productive. I'd go shopping or pass my time reading something or even watch television instead of editing Wikipedia.