< Back to article list

The Boston Marathon; A compelling case for Crowdsourcing

by Damien

So what is Crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing is the practice of acquiring needed services, ideas, or content by seeking contributions from a large collection of people, and especially from an online community.

The main advantage is that there’s strength in numbers when it comes to crowdsourcing. Rather than relying on one person or agency to work on a project, you can select the best ideas from a community or “crowd” of people you solicit online.

In many ways, the Boston Marathon provided one of the most compelling cases for crowd involvement, ever. As one of the largest athletic events in the world, event planners estimate upwards of 500,000 people attend each year, the vast majority of whom have smartphones, and a generous portion of whom were actively taking pictures and videos throughout the event.

Surveillance cameras have become omnipresent, but are often fixed in place and have large blind spots and can get damaged. Spectators, on the other hand, can provide multiple points of view of the same situation. For that reason, it’s a natural fit for Big Brother to look to tens of thousands of “Little Brothers” for their help in gathering intelligence. Here are a few of the crowdsourcing variations (and this is not a complete list!):

  • Solution Finding: This is where you use a crowd to solve a complex problem.
  • Opinion Seeking: Crowds can be used to provide feedback and suggestions on how to improve products and services. Symphony provides an excellent platform for opinion seeking, in that you can create multiple online forms and surveys and can then report on the data collated.
  • Content Creation: Want to create an advertisement for your company or event but don’t want to hire a costly design agency? Various platforms can be used to help companies crowdsource the creation of videos. News broadcasters are also doing this to help collect videos from individuals who shoot newsworthy footage on their iPhone.
  • Data Collection: This is a growing area of crowdsourcing. Instead of sending your employees out to inspect venues and services, get anyone to do it.
  • Manual Tasks: Break up your work into bite-sized chunks and get people to do these activities for a minim fee. There are many platforms for doing this in all shapes and sizes. Although it is not technically a crowdsourcing platform, one of my favorites websites is fiverr.com; a site where people will do almost anything for $5. Symphony provides its users with a ‘Tasks’ section providing a very efficient medium for delegation. In the Tasks section  you can assign and manage tasks and configure notifications and reminders for these tasks.
  • Programming: One of my favourite crowdsourcing platforms is TopCoder. This is truly amazing. They have nearly a half million programmers, designers, testers and program managers who compete to create wireframes, designs, code, and algorithms, and then test everything for customers. This is one of the best end-to-end solutions out there.
  • Crowd funding: Need money for an initiative or cause? Crowdfunding may be the way. Platforms such Symphony can be used to help people raise money for their projects. Symphony can be integrated with a number of popular online payment gateways and can therefore be used as an easy way to ‘crowd fund’ and collate donations for your cause/project.

A significant downfall however, in the case of this athletic event is the validity in the separation of fact from fiction and in providing verified, reliable information. Instead, most outlets including the media, repeated false claims made online — providing a megaphone to false and misleading statements.

We now live in a world where information moves faster than we can assess its value. However, despite their failings in this case, the crowd has proved themselves to be an important force for public safety. Like with many crowdsourcing-related activities, individuals are good at providing information or reporting events. Every community has the potential to play a role in being sentinels of public safety, but this requires from us a large degree of focus, caution, and care.

For more information as to how Symphony can help you manage a crowd, call us on +44 (0) 114 279 4990. You can talk to one of our event management experts.