Collaboration has always been one of the greatest gifts the Internet has to offer. The web allows people all over the world to connect and work together on projects they could never have tackled alone, from researching a disease to perfecting a new technology to making the world a better place.
In 2009, IBM proved that they, too, understood just how powerful collaboration could be. They hosted a “Jam,” a sort of online conference in which thousands of people participate in many related conversations, and invited thousands of individuals from forty different countries to talk about ways to make the world “smarter.” They talked about improving healthcare, developing smarter electricity grids, and reforming education to give students the interdisciplinary tools they’d need to tackle these projects. They came up with a whole host of ways they could change the world, and you can see the continuing results of the Jam at the “Smarter Planet” blog.
There’s an old article over at Wired that mentions a few more examples of crowdsourcing at work, but I wanted to share a couple of my favorite examples of the way crowdsourcing is changing the world.
First, take a look at reddit, the self-proclaimed “front page of the Internet.” The site is home to a massive community of people, and any given post has the potential to be seen by millions of viewers in a matter of hours. The reddit community has mobilized to accomplish a lot of good in the past, from raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity to writing hundreds of letters to a dying man with Down’s syndrome. They’re also the community behind ureddit, a form of crowdsourced education in which knowledgeable or skilled redditors develop and teach classes to anyone who’s interested in learning from them. The classes are free and cover a broad variety of topics including programming, fine art theory, foreign languages, knitting, trigonometry, cryptography, physics and neuroscience. If you want to learn something, and there’s no ureddit course for it,you can request one. With ureddit, anyone with Internet access can learn just about anything.
I want to mention Duolingo, too. At first glance, the site is a language-learning tool, but it was developed to empower the whole Internet to contribute to the translation of the web. Translating every single web site on the Internet would, of course, be a monumental undertaking for a small group of workers, but, in creating a system that allows thousands and millions of people to translate bits and pieces of one page at a time, Duolingo has turned an impossible task into a project already well underway.
These sites are effectively bringing many hands together to make light work. They’re connecting the haves with the have nots. They’re making the world more accessible. Ultimately, through crowdsourcing, they’re making the world a better place.