A recent Newsweek article, Take This Blog and Shove It!, makes the argument that crowdsourcing and interactivity on the web is dying. It calls Wikipedia’s drop in contributors a ‘tipping point’ in the history of the web, stating that “Even the Internet is no match for sloth.”

Quoting a recent Pew study that the number of bloggers in the 18-24 year old range has declined by half from 2006 to 2009, the authors argue that this is evidence that “many of them would rather watch funny videos of kittens or shop for cheap airfares than contribute to the greater good.”  They acknowledge that there has been a large shift to Twitter, but then state that, with “50 million tweets per day…as many as 90 percent of tweets come from 10 percent of its users according to a 2009 Harvard study.”  In addition, the authors describe a decrease in commenting by Internet users along with ploys that various sites have introduced to increase interactivity by users.

I agree with the authors that at the dawn of the interactive web there was a feeling that it was a great democratizing force and that it allowed for everyone’s voice to be heard, so people were excited to contribute.  However, they claim that ‘ennui’ is the reason why interactivity on the web has decreased.

There are a few factors at play here.

Cliff Lampe‘s insight, as quoted in the article, that there are more sites competing for our attention plays a huge role. With so many places to have our voice heard, contributors are stretched thinner than ever.  However, the decrease in the number of bloggers in that age range just means that most bloggers are older, professional bloggers and that perhaps (gasp!) the format that people use to express ideas and opinions might be evolving or that people can’t be forced to comment on content that is irrelevant or poorly written.  I have seen 3 or more pages of comments on articles about charter schools or government policy, never mind the pages of mindless comments on YouTube videos.

As for crowdsourcing, I have crowdsourced ideas at least a dozen times just this month.  I had 88 responses to my survey on technology tools people planned on using during the first week of school.  South by Southwest crowdsources its panelist proposals each year and every week the #edchat discussion topic is decided by an online poll.

A couple of other things came to mind.

Should we be worried about the idea that we will return to being web content consumers? We should  teaching our students how to harness the power of the interactive web to make sure it survives, grows and evolves.  Our students hold the future of the web in their hands.

We need to explicitly teach our students how to use the Internet for more than cute kitty videos and shopping and we need to accept the fact that the web is a fluid, constantly evolving organism that is only in its infancy. The web that our students will use when they are adults is something we can only imagine in our wildest dreams. They need to be an integral part of its future.

There are many other details in the article to reflect on, and I suggest you give it a read, even if you don’t agree with its slant or conclusions.

Feel free to leave any comments on the article or on my musings below.

photo from Hannes Treichl on Flickr


  1. Reply

    I think it's part of a natural evolution away from the masses and towards some semblance of meritocracy. I would argue that although the absolute number of Wikipedia contributors may be dropping, the number of highly educated, high quality contributors is increasing and getting more active.

    Same is happening on sites like Scripped.com, where elite screenwriters compete for contests run by Spike TV and notable Hollywood producers. Instead of being opened wide to the masses, it's crowdsourcing in a smaller, more focused setting.

  2. Reply

    I thought there was quite a bit of validity to one of the main points of the article – namely, that as human beings we crave some sort of reward, recognition, or compensation for our efforts. Even those that benefit society at large. I believe those platforms that provide members, users, or contributors with some sort of status or intrinsic inspiration for participation will begin to rise to the top, not only in terms of numbers and metric, but quality, too.

    I also think we're on the brink of a coalescing movement – the web universe collapsing back in on itself a bit after having been exploded out to the limits of it's niche, specialized communities. People and their ideas are still limited quantities, as is our time. As contributors and curators, we have to be smart about how we divvy those efforts. The sites that allow us to do more with those ideas are the ones that will win out.

  3. Reply

    I agree that quality may be improving as more highly educated thinkers have moved conversations online. I am also fascinated by the idea that the Internet has reached some kind of peak just like the .com bubble of the 90's. I feel like everything on the web has been stretched to the limit and perhaps natural selection will help things stabilize.

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments guys.

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