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This began with a telephone call from an old friend in Vegas. Brian is a lifelong degenerate sports bettor and so his conversation inevitably buzzes around the topics of “How I won the bet” or “How I lost the bet.” I don’t remember with certainty when the following adjacent topic sneaked into the mix (I wasn’t paying attention) but he said something about “crowdsourcing” and using that technique to make NFL bets.

I asked, “Isn’t that what bookies do?” Brian said something about getting himself over to the bookies’ side of the fence, using crowdsourcing to make his wagers, winning huge money, and then something about Maui, a beach, and an ancestral estate. I was considering dinner at the time, whether to go for the steak or the salmon. On the other hand, a crustless zucchini quiche would not be out of the question.

It was a couple days before I thought about Brian’s plan again, and when I did, I realized I didn’t know anything about crowdsourcing. No worries. Omnipotent knowledge is but a few steps and a few Google searches away. I quickly learned Jeff Howe is credited with the term, first used way back in a 2006 in a Wired magazine article he wrote, titled, “The Rise of Crowdsourcing.” Howe said, “A central principle animating crowdsourcing is that the group contains more knowledge than individuals.”

You could argue that crowdsourcing has been around for a long time and has had mixed results. Consider the Dutch Tulip crowdsourcing of 1635–1638 or the British South Sea crowdsourcing of 1720 or the American Dot-Com crowdsourcing of 1997–2000 or the late, great American real-estate crowdsourcing of 2003–2007. In these cases, the wisdom of the crowd did not prove out.

On the other hand, historical crowdsourcing has its successes, too: the Longitude Prize. In 1714, the British parliament passed an act that established a £20,000 prize for the person who devised a method that could fix longitude within 30 miles. A method was devised.

Or the Orteig Prize ($25,000), for the first person to fly nonstop from New York to Paris or vice versa. Won by Lindberg in 1927.

Or the $10 million Ansari X-Prize for the first privately financed, built, and launched space vehicle that carried three people 62.5 miles (100 km) into space and safely returned them to Earth. Had to be done twice within the space of two weeks using the same vehicle. Won in 2004 by Paul Allen, who funded the enterprise.

Or the $1 million Netflix Prize for the team that could “substantially improve the accuracy of predictions about how much someone will enjoy a movie based on their movie preferences.” Awarded in 2009.

Crowdsourcing has become a popular idea, particularly since corporations figured out how to make money off it. This development altered Howe’s original definition to the more commercially acceptable “act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to a large group of people or community (a crowd)...”

The up-to-date model is: (1) company has a problem; (2) company broadcasts problem online; (3) online “crowd” is asked to give solutions; (4) crowd submits solutions; (5) crowd vets solutions; (6) company rewards winning solvers; (7) company owns winning solutions; (8) company profits.

We’ll overlook the sordid details about the company offloading its employees in favor of paying pennies on the dollar to “creatives” drawn from the internet who will do the same work for dog food and no health or retirement benefits and, as additional bonus, hand over all their rights to the work they created.

That kind of legal exploitation means crowdsourcing has arrived big-time and mainstream. Herewith are Sunday’s headlines taken from a single Google search.

“Chevy turns to crowdsourcing for next commercial idea.”

“Crowdsourcing the Number of Seats Per Row at Yankee Stadium.”

“Crowdsourcing Crisis News.”

“Crowdsourcing Female-Friendly Seating at the Linc [Lincoln Financial Field, Home of the Philadelphia Eagles].”

“Crowdsourcing LeBron James’s decision to leave Cleveland.”

Okay, people, are you ready to get in the game? As one rapacious vendor put it, “If you don’t crowdsource, you’ll be crowdsourced.” Dear Reader, I must ask you, do you want to be somebody’s crowdsourced prey? Or do you want to use the best ideas taken from thousands of exploited “creators” for free? Think about it.

The Box will award an official Sporting Box Crowdsourced T-shirt to the author of the best nonviolent solution to the following puzzle: How can Norv Turner be fired?

The contest will run from now until December 31, 2010. You may enter as many times as you wish. Send your ideas to: sportbox@comcast.net. May the best creative win.

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Comments

David Dodd Oct. 28, 2010 @ 5:33 a.m.

Crowdsourcing is not a good method to use making a wager. In the context of wagering, you're doing nothing more than playing a favorite. Crowdsourcing could be useful in terms of finding more successful handicapping techniques based on results analysis from the "crowd" that cashed winning tickets, but otherwise, I don't buy it.

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