Tag Archives: crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing FedEx

mail packageSometimes I think I should have more faith in my own mad ideas. While the UK postal strikes were in full effect earlier in the year, I was kicking around an plan for replacing the increasingly beleaguered Royal Mail with a sort of peer-to-peer localised mail delivery system, which everyone I mentioned it to told me was completely impractical. [image by piermario]

I dare say they were probably right, but it’s still somehow gratifying to see that it’s not so crazy an idea that I’m the only person to have had it – via Global Guerrillas comes a post by a fellow called Chase Saunders in which he describes a similar idea: UsExpress.

I have mental picture of millions of people driving back and forth to work (and other places) over and over again.  It’s almost like Brownian motion.  Even if people rarely took long trips, there would be plenty of this routine, back and forth motion to ship all the packages we could possibly want, if only there were a service that gave a percentage of these drivers the right incentives, information, and infrastructure to hand off the packages at the proper moment. USExpress could be that service.


If my father took 10 packages, 4 days a week, fifty weeks a year, that would be 120 x 10 x 200 = 240,000 package miles.  How much do you think it costs to pay for a UPS driver to carry and deliver 240,000 package-miles?  Even if we assume an average of 300 packages on board at all times, that’s probably at least a week’s salary, not to mention overhead and benefits.  The difference is, the UPS guy is not going to drive that route unless we pay him (and train him, and buy him a truck, etc.)  But my father is going to drive to work anyway. If the pickup and dropoff locations are close enough to his work and home, why not generate a few hundred — or a few thousand — extra dollars a year?

Sure, there are some flaws to the idea, but Saunders addresses some of the big ones. The major stumbling block would be getting past the largely unfounded institutional trust we have in national mail systems – the trust that parcels won’t be lost, and that they will get to where they’re supposed to go, on neither of which Royal Mail has a flawless record. But such a system might just fill the gap as energy costs soar toward the day that physical delivery becomes obsolete

Crowdsource your plot snags: Twitter as brainstorming tool

I expect many of the writers in Futurismic‘s readership are already using Twitter to communicate with colleagues and friends across the globe… but have you considered putting it to the more practical use of getting people to help you brainstorm your plot problems? PR maven Steve Rubel points to a friend of his, Jeff Kirvin, who has done exactly that.

Personally, I think I’d struggle to ask the hive-mind a question that specific about something I was writing; outsourcing some of the imaginative process would probably derail the pleasure and focus of creation for me, I think. Do you lot ask for help on sticky plots, or do you conquer the mountain alone?

And speaking of help with plot points, I got an email from one Helen Callaghan informing me that she’s hosting a guest blogger whom you might want to ask questions of:

Marcus Chown, popular science author of We Need To Talk About Kelvin [and cosmology consultant to New Scientist – Ed.] will be guest blogging on my site!

He’s agreed to answer science questions from SF writers, so the idea is, if you’ve got a plot issue or setpiece that’s bugging you, or you ever wondered what would happen if a certain scenario came true, here’s your chance to get an expert opinion.

The idea is that we can start asking questions now by posting them in the comments on the site, and the answers will be posted on the 11th.

Thanks, Helen; that gives you a few days, so pop over and leave your questions if you got ’em.

The greying of Wikipedia

citation needed!Despite continued growth as one of the most-visited sites on the web, Wikipedia has a problem – it’s losing editors faster than it’s gaining new ones. Cue lots of veiled “told you so” from the Wall Street Journal [via /message]:

… as it matures, Wikipedia, one of the world’s largest crowdsourcing initiatives, is becoming less freewheeling and more like the organizations it set out to replace. Today, its rules are spelled out across hundreds of Web pages. Increasingly, newcomers who try to edit are informed that they have unwittingly broken a rule — and find their edits deleted, according to a study by researchers at Xerox Corp.

“People generally have this idea that the wisdom of crowds is a pixie dust that you sprinkle on a system and magical things happen,” says Aniket Kittur, an assistant professor of human-computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon University who has studied Wikipedia and other large online community projects. “Yet the more people you throw at a problem, the more difficulty you are going to have with coordinating those people. It’s too many cooks in the kitchen.”

What isn’t clear, at least from this article, is which editors are leaving. A few years ago, all you could find were articles complaining that Wikipedia had too many unskilled and uninformed editors, and that it was hence a valueless project; now that people are being deterred from fiddling because the cost of entry is too high for casual contributions, that’s the problem. C’mon, people; you can’t have it both ways.

Rather than unseating my faith in crowdsourcing, these developments at Wikipedia are pretty much in line with what I had expected to happen. The initial landslide of popularity was like a new frontier, and it inevitably attracted a lot of chancers and grifters – not least, I suspect, because the SEO Google-juice from outbound Wikipedia links is powerful stuff indeed. I’m inclined to see Wikipedia (and a lot of other web-based projects) as an emergent system, and this shedding of casual contributors makes perfect sense; not everyone cares enough to do it properly, and the system self-adjusts to exclude those low-value contributions. [image by mmetchley]

That said, Wikipedia isn’t completely emergent and spontaneous; the Wikimedia Foundation steers and directs it as it sees fit. But even so, it’s still surprisingly reliable by comparison to classically-produced encyclopedias… and those who accuse it of inherent bias have obviously never seen Conservapedia (which I’m not going to do the favour of linking to – just Google it if you fancy horrifying yourself with some ultra-conservative historical revisionism). Sure, it’s not perfect… but what is? I’d be interested to see a catalogue of the errors that a paper like the Wall Street Journal makes in the course of a year for comparison…

That said, there’s one statistic about Wikipedia that is fairly disappointing (though far from surprising):

A survey the foundation conducted last year determined that the average age of an editor is 26.8 years, and that 87% of them are men.

Um. Not so much a greying, after all.

Google’s Building Maker: crowdsourcing the world’s architecture

Valencia, Spain as seen in Google EarthIs there anything that can’t be crowdsourced? Google sure don’t think so, as they’ve just announced another new project for Joe Public to muck in on. Google Building Maker will be used to populate Google Earth with 3D models of major buildings:

We like to think of Building Maker as a cross between Google Maps and a gigantic bin of building blocks. Basically, you pick a building and construct a model of it using aerial photos and simple 3D shapes – both of which we provide. When you’re done, we take a look at your model. If it looks right, and if a better model doesn’t already exist, we add it to the 3D Buildings layer in Google Earth. You can make a whole building in a few minutes.

It’s entirely browser-based, too, so no compatibility problems. Of course, you don’t get the freedom of Second Life, where you can build any damned building you feel like… but then learning how to build well in SL can take weeks of practice, whereas Google have aimed to make it as easy as possible. Which is a sensible move if you want people to do work for free, I guess… [image by Visentico/Sento]

Send Uncle Warren money for a death ray… or maybe this other guy

TubeSatSo, d’you remember us mentioning the TubeSat company back in summer? Y’know, the outfit from whom you can buy a one-shot tubular satellite from for only US$8,000 the people at H+ Magazine gave them a good grilling last month, too.

Well, Warren Ellis certainly noticed, and he’s now in this month’s issue of Wired UK, begging for money with which to launch his own death ray.

So if you fancy arming the High Curmudgeon of comics with Terrible Implements of Space-borne Pain and Death, you know what to do – though I dare say he’d just as rather you bought some of his books. If, however, you’d rather fund a slightly more peaceful TubeSat deployment, you might be interested in taking a look at Drake Pool’s “Space Now” Kickstarter project.

Drake emailed earlier this week to say that he spotted the TubeSat story here at Futurismic a few months back, and it inspired him to get a project together. Not surprisingly, he can’t just rustle up eight grand out of nowhere, so he’s doing a crowdsourced microfunding drive whereby you can buy small chunks of the available payload space. And he doesn’t really mind what you do with it, though he suggests using the capability to broadcast a signal to a particular geographical section of the planet:

… in polar orbit the satellite will cover a vast amount of the earth’s surface. This means you will be able to broadcast your message to a geographically relevant region of the planet. With the power of mathematics, we can determine where the satellite will be at a given time. Think of the possibilities!

  • Say hello to your friend in Sweden!
  • Play 80s speed metal for people in Australia!
  • Send your PGP key to Spies in China!

I’m sure there is hundreds of things you can do with this. I can’t wait to see.

I’m sure playing 80s speed metal at people who aren’t expecting it qualifies as a “cruel and unusual punishment”in some countries… but hey, that’s your lookout. Drake suggests you could also send very small objects up on the satellite, so if there’s somethign lurking around the house (or even your body) that you feel deserves to go out in the ultimate blaze of glory and burn up on re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, dig it out and get clicking.

Whether you decide to invest or not, kudos to Drake for going that one step further than the rest of us who just thought “wow, what could you do with one of those?” and forgot about it. That’s the entreprenurial spirit, right there. 🙂