Big Ideas, Delivered With Impact

Should Writers Crowdsource?

In Writing on May 23, 2009 at 4:53 pm

By Tim Beyers



Was this week’s American Idol victory by Kris Allen a failure of crowdsourcing? Readers who’ve responded to my take on this at The Motley Fool mostly say no. Dean Takahashi of VentureBeat says yes. After further review, I say “maybe” because it depends upon how you define crowdsourcing.

Wiktionary calls it “delegating a task to a large diffuse group, usually without monetary compensation.” This definition reminds me of services like Peter Shankman’s Help A Reporter Out. “HARO,” as it’s known, claims to provide writers and journalists with access to at least 100,000 qualified sources.



Of course, the trouble with having 100,000 sources is that some of them aren’t very good. Yet some are outstanding; I’ve had tremendous success using HARO to find experts to comment about Twitter and social media. I’ve had less success using HARO to track down sources with very specific expertise, such as corporate chief information officers.

So crowdsourcing as a way to find sources has its limits. But what about story ideas? Should writers crowdsource topics? Or does literary pride dictate that I be my own R&D department? I can see both sides of the argument.

Freelance writing is a volume business. Anything I can do to reduce the elapsed time between idea and query puts more food on our table. Crowdsourcing ideas, in this sense, helps me to fulfill a moral obligation to my family.

But freelance writing is also an ideas business. I’m a purveyor of interesting and hopefully saleable thoughts. Outsourcing my brain, in this sense, is like selling my soul, as if asking for pitchable stories is like inviting Satan himself, contract and pen in hand, over for a tasty dinner of fava beans and ethereal stew.

“I try not to crowdsource. Not because I don’t like to, but because I like to find new stuff when I can,” says writer Jarvis Slacks. This, of course, is the ideal. But I wonder if we freelancers really are the idea factories that we profess to be. The PR industry was supplying sources and research long before anyone had heard of HARO. Are my ideas really better than those of an as-yet-to-be-published writer who doesn’t have a contract? I doubt it.

So I’ll keep crowdsourcing. Here are four topics I’d like to write about. What are the untold stories in these areas?

1. Food allergy research. I’ve two sons with food allergies. Our eldest has Celiac Disease. You’ll find my wife blogging about the challenges of caring for children who have food allergies — more than 3 million here in the U.S. at last count — at Gluten Free Joy. Are there biotechs working on medicines to address food allergies? What research have they done?

2. Tech-creep in sports. Baseball has officially joined the sports to adopt video replay and already two different players have lost home runs. Is further tech-creep in professional sports inevitable? What technologies are out there that threaten to make sports more clinical and what are the chances that they’ll be adopted?

3. Side effects of cloud computing. Those who follow my writing at know that I’m a fervent supporter of cloud computing as a concept. (I’m less of a fan of the term.) Are consumers as enthusiastic? What are the consumer side effects of corporate adoption of cloud computing?

4. Businesses built on social media. Twitter’s popularity has led to a rise in businesses built on social media. What are the newest ideas? Has anyone developed a list of the businesses built on Twitter? How about Facebook? How much funding is being committed to these enterprises and what does the growth trajectory look like?

E-mail me here or use the comments box below to post ideas. And for the editors reading: I’d love to write any of these stories for you.



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