Game Life

Crowdsourcing: A Definition

  • I like to use two definitions for crowdsourcing:

    The White Paper Version: Crowdsourcing is the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.

    The Soundbyte Version: The application of Open Source principles to fields outside of software.

Crowdsourcing in the News

  • March 25, 2007: New York Times and NPR's On the Media
    Another twofer: First, in yesterday's Times Jason Pontin takes a first-hand look at Mechanical Turk, and Jeff Bezos' notion of "artificial artifical intelligence." His experience is less than satisfactory, and a reminder that not everything should be crowdsourced.

    My favorite NPR show, On the Media, interviews TPM Muckraker's Paul Kiel about the site's recent experiment in crowdsourcing. Muckraker asked its readers to parse the 3,000 emails pertaining to the firing of federal prosecutors that Dept. of Justice released last week. Within hours Muckraker readers were ferreting out compromising passages, some of which led to news leads for MSM pubs, further evidence that the crowd has a promising future in performing investigative functions. Shady politicians (is that phrase redundant?) beware.
  • March 19, 2007: New York Times and Detroit Free Press
    Today's a twofer: The New York Times' David Carr writes about Assignment Zero in his column, "The Media Equation." I edited David a few times at the now defunct (It shined brightly but briefly). If memory serves, he could recall obscure circulation figures on certain newspapers and magazines from memory. No mean media critic, in other words. So I was elated to see him give Assignment Zero a cautiously optimistic treatment.

    Crowdsourcing also made the Detroit Free Press today, where religion writer David Crumm writes about how theologians and pastors are using the model to let their congregations "shape a church's worship and programs." I haven't followed the crowdsourcing in religion angle as much as I'd like, and this is a great introduction to the subject.
  • March 16, 2007: Radio: WNYC - Crowdsourcing and Music
    Does user-generated content threaten the recording industry? That presumes there's still a recording industry to speak of. I'm kidding—kinda. But CD sales get more and more anemic and companies building businesses out of unknown bands—call it music by the crowd—look more and more interesting (and viable) all the time. Yesterday I was on one of my favorite WNYC shows, "Soundcheck" discussing all this and more. Stream or download the show here. You can listen to my segment alone (it runs about 20 minutes), but I recommend you listen to the opening segment on the bizarre-but-intriguing Midomi is a social networking site that allows you to search for music by singing a few bars into a microphone connected to your computer. Soundcheck brought in a trained opera singer to put Midomi's software to the test, with humorous results. American Idol-meets-Myspace-meets-iTunes-meets-voice-recognition-software. That's some mash-up. What will those Stanford smarties dream up next?
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May 24, 2006

Mission Statement

Hi. My name is Jeff Howe. I’m a contributing editor to Wired Magazine, and I recently published an article about a phenomenon I call Crowdsourcing. The article explored the ways in which the amateur – defined as scientists, writers, photographers or anyone else working outside an organizational structure like a firm – has become an increasingly significant economic force in our world. This Web site will primarily continue that mission. Journalists regularly gather far more material than they can use. This was especially true in this case, and so the Web site will allow me to cast some light on the many fascinating people and ideas that didn’t make it into the article.

However, will take a very different approach to the subject. In the article I wanted simply to show how companies are increasingly taking advantage of a global populace that’s getting more intelligent and more productive and more connected. I declined to pass judgment over whether crowdsourcing is a good or bad thing; nor did I forecast how it might all shake out.

On I'll encourage the expression of opinion, both foolish and otherwise, starting now: I believe that crowdsourcing’s long-term promise is immeasurable, but I have considerable misgivings about its short-term applications and its implications for the people – like stock photographers – who will be adversely affected by the crowd.

Finally, I’d like to be more of a forum than a bully pulpit. To that end, the Web site will function more like a single-subject journal than a blog. I intend to solicit and accept submissions to the site. I won’t guarantee publication, but I’ll promise to exercise as light an editorial hand as possible in my selections. If it adds to the discussion without insulting or offending any party, I’ll publish it. The result should be something of a Speaker’s Corner. At first I’ll probably be the only one speaking, pounding on the podium for attention, but with any luck a loud and raucous crowd will clamor to be heard.


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» Crowdsourcing - a potential resource for your business from Lee Iwan, Bits and Pieces of Accumulated Experience
Jeff Howe has written an article for WIRED about the phenomenom of crowdsourcing and its use in business. I first heard about a variation of crowdsourcing several years ago, with the SETI@home project. You could sign up your computer,... [Read More]

» Crowdsourcing is the new outsourcing: Wired on value co-creation from Mass Customization
Wired has run a number of nice feature articles on co-creation of value between companies and their customers in the past issues, but now they also coined a new, cool and really appropriate term for this trend: Crowdsourcing. Jeff Howe's [Read More]


I'm the photographer mentioned in the Jeff's Wired story. My initial reaction to the iStockphoto business model, was yet another assault on the photography business. There has been a constant downward pressure of fees paid to photographers combined with a rise in the reproduction rights demanded by clients. The iStockphoto business model was yet another downward leap in the race to the bottom.

I personally don't mind the artistic competition from crowdsourcers. I know how hard it is to take a good photo. Digital technology may make it easier to recognize when you have taken a bad picture, but making a memorable image still takes talent, hard work and years of devotion to your craft. iStock has built a great community in supporting others to learn about photography. But I feel that they have built a system that is exploitive of their contributors.

It may be fun at first to know that you photo is being used by someone else. I too enjoyed seeing my name in print when I first started in photography, but when you are trying to make a living with your talent it is even more important to see you name in print on a check.

It could even be great to get an extra 20 cents for the honor. What the iStock owners didn't tell the contributors was that the photo market was offering $200 and more for similar uses. I personally don't understand how the economics of their system could work to sustain the operation, but when Getty Images came in with a check for $50 million it became clear that there was a way for the owners to make money on the system. Unfortunately the contributing photographer still get a measly 20 cents for the reproduction of their image.

Is this the great democracy of the marketplace at work? Or is it the way for a few to get rich by exploiting the crowd?

I have been an avid “Wired” reader for a long time. Kudos on the article; great intro to the birthing of a new trend, at least as you described it. Immeasurable for sure but I predict rapid growth as soon as the vehicle, “crowdsourcing” works its way into the general consciousness. In fact I am looking forward to the day when spell checker doesn’t go red on it! Cheers, Alan.

P.S. I would be interested to know who coined the term, any clue. Alan.

Those are good questions Mark. The obvious change in the market place because of such practices is surely going to be on-going. Is it an economic engine that drives such practices? In the past three decades the move from moral considerations, concern for an employee or his/her family, health and so on, have gone south in such a hurry as to burn large numbers. As new paradigms come into existence those who live or die by such changes become like chaff in the wind. The sad reality is that the settled chaff becomes the compost for future changes. I think that “the great democracy of the market place” is humbug. We all know the fairytales, aren’t the big guns just wolves in sheep’s clothing? There is an interesting twist, whilst “crowdsourcing” might make a process cheaper for the large companies, because of the large numbers of individuals who are waiting to do the work for much less, the large companies use that self same principle to fleece those who are saving them buckets, go figure! Alan.

As a small time (working for a non-profit) web developer looking for legal image content that I could afford, I stumbled upon iStockphoto back in 2002. They had just transitioned from an image exchange system to a fee based system, and I had just picked up my first digital camera 6 months prior to take snap shots of my newly born son.

I couldn't believe my good fortune! One could download a royalty free image instantly for 25 cents a pop, but that was not what got me excited, it was the fact that they would actually allow me to put my own 3MP images up to be licensed. At the time, I would receive 5 cents every time one of my images was licensed. I sent in a few sample photos and I was in.

In the years that have passed I have had opportunities to be involved with many aspects of istockphoto operations as both a volunteer and also under contract. I certainly owe everything I know about photography to my experiences with the istock community. I have met amazingly brilliant and talented people from all over the world, and interact with them daily. I've had the pleasure of meeting hundreds of other members at various get togethers. I've taken some of the money I've earned and upgraded my photography equipment from that 3MP Kodak point and shoot to my current Nikon DSLR and assorted lenses. The quality of my annual Christmas card photo of my son has risen exponentially.

Photography is still only my hobby, and istock is still my number one outlet for it. I appreciate the money I earn every day from it (I have a widget on my desktop that plays music every time one of my images is licensed). I just finished IM'ing with a fellow istocker from South Africa who is planning a trip to visit other istockers in Eastern Canada. I'm hoping to drive up for a day trip from my home in New Hampshire. My life is much richer in many many ways from my time as one of the crowd.

I coined the term. Thanks for all your comments! Keep 'em coming. I'll reply in more detail later in the day.

I am a strong believer in what can be done with web communities, both for profit and for a greater good and open exchange of information.

Doug Sims

Quick thought regarding some of the questions Mark raises: Talented amateur or part-time practitioners of any specialized craft could well eventually realize that they possess a special skill, and begin charging accordingly. At least, this theory was advanced by sources I talked to in a number of different fields. It was especially popular amongst TV professionals I met, who believed that it won't be long before anyone who has a couple of hits on Youtube starts looking for an agent before licensing their viral video to, say, Bravo or VH1. This problematizes the crowdsourcing model, naturally, tho I don't think it would affect its underlying robustness. It simply means that crowdsourcing is both a means of contracting for cheap labor as well as a form of discovering new talent. Just a thought...

Speaking of crowds ... there are a lot of comments here that you might find interesting:

iStock is to the stock photography industry what Scientology is to the religious industry. Namely, a vaguely disguised pyramid scheme. Stay away!!!

Congrats on a fascinating article and a great idea for a blog, Jeff. I've been excited about the possibility to create leverage effects within content marketplaces for a long time, but it has certainly been evolving in unexpected ways. I look forward to seeing how this trend continues to unfold.

"crowdsourcing is both a means of contracting for cheap labor as well as a form of discovering new talent"

Absolutely. In rule #5 of "5 Rules of The New Labor Pool", you state that "The crowd finds the best stuff". In addition, the crowd rewards the contributors of the best stuff. Just ask any of the top photographers at iStockphoto if they're pleased with the thousands of dollars they receive every month in addition to their regular paychecks.

PS> Fantastic article, Jeff!!

Regarding the comment by Brent Harson:
"... Namely, a vaguely disguised pyramid scheme. Stay away!!!"

iStockphoto is neither a pyramid scheme nor even a multi-level marketing program.

It is an agency. Contributors earn money from having images licensed, and the agency earns money for providing/maintaining/marketing the mechanism to make it possible for having images licensed. It is as simple as that.

There is no mechanism for contributors to earn money from other contributors.

It is possible to earn a one time finders fee of $5 for referring a first time buyer. In my 4 years experience with them I have done this once.

I have no experience with Scientology, so I can not speak to that.

The scientology statement “sort-of” works, for me Rob, but the pyramid claim for iStock does ask for some sort of clarification. I did the pyramid thing, “many moons ago,” at a time when I thought it would make me a millionaire and certainly learned the intimate details of conversational psychology!

The step-grand daddy of crowdsourcing, outsourcing, offers some interesting principles to ponder, namely traditional questions like relationships with unions, disruption of services and the like. When can one move from crowdsourcing hypothesis to a beginners manual and who is going to be the most likely author? The first questions that are gong to be asked are; where does one begin, and what company functions will one best be looking at to crowdsource, or will the only risk free transactions be the generic ones? Will the partner / provider question still be relative and more importantly for the many independent “ready to do it folks,” how broadly might crowdsourcing be used by the general population? Alan.

Looking forward to it, Jeff.

Jeff - why not give Mark a link in your article?

Russ--Mark was the first person I linked to, though as I'm still figuring out how my "typelist" function works (I'm new to blogging) his link is at the bottom of the left-hand frame.

The article didn't talk about the problems in iStock and other micro-stock website swith amateur photos not getting correct releases from models and property owners. I predict this becomes a big issue with buyers who thought they were getting a deal at $1 per image only to get sued later by people in the photos.

Art buyers and marketing people need to realize that cutting corners can hurt their clients and businesses. Getty and the other big player in stock do more to ensure their photos are correctly licensed - because their reputation depends on it.


Regarding RubenRemus' comment:
"The article didn't talk about the problems in iStock and other micro-stock website swith amateur photos not getting correct releases from models and property owners."

Speaking only about iStock, I'd say it wasn't included because it is a non-issue. All images of recognizable faces are required to be model released. All property (objects or real estate) are handled on a case-by-case basis. Subjects that require a property release for commercial use are required to have one or are not accepted. Contributors are supplied with both Property and Model release forms as well as a frequently updated list of subjects that are known to require releases for commercial use.

In any case, people using an image should be aware of all licensing and usage requirements no matter where they acquire them from.

Regarding getting releases and trademark infringements. I think there may be a small future problem with liability for and its owners.

There are many instances of trademarked places on their site. One example, the beautiful Lions at the front of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue in
Manhattan. istockphotos has quite a few images, with a number of RF downloads on these images, and other big agencies like Corbis and Getty Images also
show RM and RF images of this icon. It is of course, trademarked, as is the beatiful Rose Main Reading Room at the library, which is also available as RF for instant download. The front of the library building itself is also trademarked, and the bulding is privately owned.

Rockefeller Center, the Chrysler Building, Grand Central Station, there are many more. One of istockphotos top RF downloads for New York is the Chrysler Building.
I'd like to be a fly on the wall when the Cease and Desist letters come in to clients who have bought $1 images of images owned by those outfits. Add the statutory damages provisions prescribed by law to willfull infringers (thats the photographer, the library, and the client) and the final invoice could well be more than a dollar.

Of course these trademark owners have to find the uses, and some may not be bothered. The problem with RF imagery however is it is sold to be used for ANYTHING.
ONCE YOU'VE MADE A SALE,the image is out there, worldwide, FOREVER... Many savy designers will know or find out if they need the rights, but many will not know or care. That's where the problems will start.

Fundamentaly though, these are minor problems that can be overcome by better policing by of its contributors. The bigger problem is that most great
photography will no longer be produced, at least not on purpose. That takes time and money and skill, and is simply not possible with a return of 20% on a $1
useage fee. What you will get is millions (literally I expect) of amateurs snapping away until a few great images emerge. Most will be medeocre, produced by people with medeoce skills. Random chance is a great concept, but the only people likely to make money from this business model are those able to aglomerate the eager dabbling of amateur photographers, edit out the junk, and take their 80% off the top. The really smart ones will sell out the company, to a bigger fish scarred about being put out of business.

Companies like Getty and Corbis will see their value collapse with the prices of thier stock photography. Buying istockphoto for $50 million only works if you can shut down all imitators and competitors, and much of the the RF content on istockphotos is already available elsewhere. There will be more "istockphotos", and not even Mr Getty or Mr Gates have enough money to buy and co-opt them all. Thanks to crowdsourcing the barriers to entry into this marketplace are dropping by the minute. Long live Creative Destruction!

Digital cameras have taken away any skill necessary to expose a decent image, composition is a matter of opinion, and distribution is now cheap and easy. Add to this a
willingness to sell the product for less than it cost to produce (what used to be called "dumping" way back when) and you have a delightful boon to consumers of stock imagery.

I am not an economist, but there seem to be some issues with the "spare time" that is devoted by people to produce low cost content. Is'nt that defined as a "good"?
People can chose to spend their time doing what they want, so creating value, however little it may be, is their choice. Crowdsourcing, like illegal immigration, should
help excert some downward pressure on wages and so help keep inflation low, break union power, avoid health coverage and add flexibilty and competitiveness to the economy. This should help improve productivity and increase corporate profits. This will allow employers to add more staff, though not, of course, in the areas being crowdsourced out...

As a photographer, quite apart from the drop in prices from around $275 a few yaers ago for a shot for a one time spot size non-exclusive use in a travel brochure, to around $3 today ( today with all rights, in perpetuity ), my other concern is the general poor execution, predictable imagery taken without skill or consideration for light, that characterises MOST of crowdsourced photography. Many photo buyers are using istockphotos, so the photography is "good enough". Just like products from India and China are good enough. The difference is that those goods will wear out and need to be replaced shortly, but at those prices, who cares. Photography lasts a long time,
people are willing to use a 25 year old photo if is cheap enough and they think nobody will notice the difference. The shelf life of these $1 images will affect photographer earnings long after photographers shooting today are dead and burried.

A diet of cheap, poor quality content, consumed of a long period of time can have some consequences. The results are clear for all to see on the streets and in the malls of this country. But people will consuming anything if its cheap enough, and convince themselves its just as good as the more expensive stuff. Consuming rubbish stock photograhy or video imagery will not give you diabetes or a heart attack, but it will have its consequences. The main consequence will be the widely held belief that great quality photography is possible with a digital camera and anybody can do it. When that happens the few remaining photographers that have the skills to produce great imagery will be left fighting for a smaller and smaller client base, whose response will be...

"I can get close to that image, in stock, for a dollar!"

Yes, close to that image. Close, but no cigar. "But at a dollar, a DOLLAR! Boy it's close enough for me!" That's happening now, today. It will only get worse as
.50 cent downloads appear. With super efficient suppliers, and producers willing to shoot for a credit-line, we could see FREE!

The woes of professional photographers may not be of much consequence, but I get the nasty feeling this will also happen in your industry too, dear reader...

Great comments Russell, much of what you say is correct although for-casting the future of “the rise and power of the ordinary folk who create masses of content whilst “others” wait for the cream to rise, might not be such a sure thing. As a boy I would see the blue tits come to my parent’s council house steps and peck a hole in the milk bottle top to get at the cream. Today, at least here in the windy city, milk is not delivered, has no cream, and the tits appear to have gone elsewhere for nourishment. Some “in the crowd” will see or taste the cream, sooner or later, and who knows what will be created thereof? Yes, many a reader and industry are going to be in the position of the professional photographer, but I predict that there will be quite a few who are going to become the u-tubes and flickers of the future. “A diet of cheap, poor quality content, consumed of a long period of time can have some consequences.” Didn’t that supplant the American Dream and we are already seeing the consequences. American dominance over the world market and the decline of its stature is eroding more rapidly than the polar ice, but the introduction of incredible opportunities through the blogosphere has just started. The traditional bottom-line has become one word, economics. The “on purpose” element is going organic and opportunity has been given to the ordinary folk who still have heart and soul, whilst traditional business structures are still going the opposite route. Alan. has now been owned by Getty Images for some months. Getty Images has been running a "traditional" stock agency model since its beginnings as a acquirer of existing agencies.It will be interesting Jeff, to see how they treat their professional contributors on one hand, and their new istocker contributors on the other.

For example, if you could get information about the following situations:

1.You could "just sign yourself up" as an istocker, professional contributors had a much harder time getting into thier supply network. Did Getty source new RM talent from among istockers? Do professionals now just sign up as istockers?

2. Royalty percentages. Professional contributors : down ? istockers: up? Both down? Both up? No movement?

3. In the past both Getty and Corbis have aquired agencies and then shut them down and returned contributors material. Will istockphotos have the same fate?
Or will the micro-payment model and crowdsourcing be where Getty focus their efforts to the detrement of RM suppliers? When Imagestate, a small independent
agency went bankrupt in April, Getty aquired a large RF collection of their images, but had no interest in the RM part of the business.

4. How do professional RF suppliers relationship to Getty change? Will Getty use istockers RF production as a club to drive down professional RF suppliers royalty cut?

5. Corbis. Second to Getty but smaller. Will it try to get into the crowdsourcing arena by aquiring the remaining micro-payment suppliers? Was there a bidding
war between them over ? Can Corbis survive without an RF micro-payment division?

I have no idea about any of these things, perhaps you can find out. More than any other business the stock photography industry should yeild insights into crowdsourcing unavailable eleswhere. Meeting of product and medium, you know what I mean?

One thing is for certain, both Getty and Corbis have access to vast amounts of capital that have allowed them to aquire a position in the stock photo industry that their poor (literally) unfortunate competitors have not enjoyed. This model has allowed them to dominate stock photo markets from New York to Paris to Melbourne. It has been effective.

I am surprised it has not attracted the attention of government regulatory agencies yet, but obviously it has fallen under the radar, probably because the effects have been multi-national, thier true market share is unknown, thier trading practices with thier customers are private, and prices for stock imagery have seen falls, not increases. Stock photography is also, really, "small potatoes".

The question now is whether they are able to exercise control over the RF micro-payment business by aquiring websites when they become a treat, and shutting them down or incorporating them into thier business effectively. This is no small task.

If they can do this, Getty and Corbis may survive. If they cannot, the're done. They will suffer the same fate as the RM agencies that have slowly but surely closed around the world in the face of a much more powerful competitor. The difference now is that this new competitor is an aggregation of small insignificant producers, made powerful by the internet, further empowered by most people's willingness to buy anything as long as its cheap.

Don't you just love the forces of globalisation and technological change? The whole process is replete with irony... The forces are so big... The speed of change just gets faster than you ever thought possible... The turnarounds are so unforseen... It's just so much FUN!!!

Good Luck, and Goodbye!

I like the way you have expressed the idea of crowdsourcing. Some time ago, I set up a web-page at where I said that in the future, the Internet would help people contract out (buy and sell) spare time and skills from all over the world. Right now, millions of person-hours of expertise, talent and time are being wasted. People are dying because of diseases for which we already have the cure, just because there are no doctors in the area. Experts on almost every subject are available, but their knowledge is not being leveraged because they cannot reach the place where they are needed, do not find out about available opportunities, or the potential buyer does not have the awareness of their existence. I forsee the rise of a new Ten-Billion Person Organization (yes, I take credit for this expression), where boundaries between corporations and organizations have dissolved, and the (to be) 10 billion people in the world are all part of one humongous organization, buying and selling products, services, time, expertise, talent, etc. Visit my website for more details. Thanks.

It will be interesting to see how the stock photography industry shakes out.

One effect that has not been mentioned is that istockphoto has increased the number of people that are using stock photography.

I give presentations on a regular basis. Before istockphoto, I had never used professional or stock photography.

I now will buy about $30-40 of stock photography from istockphoto per presentation. While I know that pales in comparison to the amount stock photographers would get per photo before the internet, new markets *are* being opened up.

Hi Dave,

I have no doubt there will be many new users of stock because people are willing to sell images for a dollar. The $30-40 you spend will be split 80/20 with the website. So the creators will get $6-8. How many downloads do you pruchase each time? Do you buy $1 downloads or $3? I'm just trying to figure out how much each contributor will earn from your business.

The problem for "professional" photographers with skills and experience is that many of the 30-35,000 regular photo buyers from magazines and graphic design firms that constitute the bulk of the customers in the US are also buying $1 downloads instead of spending $75-150 and up for an
image from a stock agency. That severly limits the earnings of professionals, and their ability to produce new imagery. (I am unaware of how much of the savings designers are passing on to their clients. Maybe some graphic designers can let us know.)

Declining earnings mean a whole generation of stock travel photographers is disappearing. People that would spend days waiting for the best light(airfare,hotel,food,car rental,gas,insurance) are being replaced by people who wouldn't know or care about light, spend a few moments taking the photo and pass on to the next place where the process is repeated. Sometimes they get lucky (as do professionals in all truth) and a great image presents itself. If they post it on istockphoto they will get 20% of not much. And you will get a bargain that cost you a lot less than it really costs to produce.

Professionals could try to drop their prices and make up the earnings on volume, but their are'nt enough clients out there on planet earth to buy sufficient $1downloads to cover their costs, let alone make a profit, even over time, because many images (like people in clothing with hair styles)
get dated quickly.

Perhaps one day in the future you will look at the stock agency websites and buy an expensive $50+ image. But if the istockphoto image looks good enough, why bother to spend so much more money? I don't blame you.

Now, where can a find an trail attorney that will work for $10/hour? Why bother spending the $300+/hour a professional charges when the (fictional website - I think..) people work so much cheaper? ...after all most judges won't know the difference. I wonder how those attorneys at pay thier bills with the 20% they get? Hey, who cares, I'm looking for a bargain, and I'm using an attorney. Which I would'nt have done in the past. New markets are being opened up, and talent that was wasted is now being used. If the professional attorneys want my business they can always drop their prices to $10/hour and make up their earnings in volume.

I just found this website today (via my bloglines subscription to Many-to-Many) and just wanted to say: great idea for a blog! Playing catchup in reading the postings but I expect there'll be LOTS of territory to cover as this idea begins to take hold.

In catching up with the postings to this blog, I'm drawn to the rants of Russell Kord the most. His grievances with crowdsourcing are excellent for spurring discussion, and I think he is peeling back some of the glitz associated with this business model, exposing the real human story that happens with professional photographers.

However, Russell complains that "Digital cameras have taken away any skill necessary to expose a decent image, composition is a matter of opinion, and distribution is now cheap and easy." I personally see it as a good sign that technology (digital cameras) has become so diffused to where everyday citizens can have the power to capture high quality images for ourselves. I think it's a good thing, too, that we can all distribute our images--our ideas...the way we see the world--to people around the world so easily. And I'm also very glad we've progressed to a point where good composition is a matter of opinion. Art is indeed in the eye of the beholder, and to shackle "goodness" to the professional/academic notions of "good composition" is to miss out on much more.

These debates have happened in a number of venues, between high brow and popular art. It took us a long time to realize that popular stuff--Monster truck rallies, junk food, game shows--was valuable for our culture, that people found meaning in themselves and purpose in this world from "low brow" moments in life. It was radical to think that ethnic dances were to be appreciated much like ballet, that we should appreciate differing perspectives in this world as equally valuable...just different.

If someone's composition is "bad," then don't look at it, don't purchase it, and write a letter to the editor of your newspaper to talk about how we need to learn to value proper, "correct" composition in photography. If a composition is a matter of opinion--if it's "good enough" for companies to want to buy to represent their products and services--then it has value in this world.

Sticking too closely to the "proper" way to produce "good" photography will certainly silence diversity and prevent new ideas--ideas that could change our world--from making it into the public eye.

If businesses demand the "right kind" of composition in the photographs they choose, then I guess the crowd will have to do some Internet research to learn how to take a "good" photograph. Or the crowd will have to enroll in some courses to learn good photography skill. But, I think what Russell fears most of all is not that "good-enough" photography will mean the collapse of the professional stock photographer, but that someday the crowd will learn all the ivory tower techniques for taking a good photograph and surpass the professional in quality. At least, that's already starting to happen. Power to the people.


Revisiting the comments I made over a year ago, they do seem like a rant. Perhaps by the end of this post I will be ranting again...

Seeing the responses is also rewarding. There seems to be little sympathy for professional photographers or their livelihood. Thats the way it should should be. The free market is a truly merciless place, where only the fit survive, and the rest are left to starve in the gutter.

In the year past I have re-learned a few basic truths. A digital camera is a wonderful tool, but it won't tell you what images photo buyers need this Friday afternoon. Quality is not relative, nor in the eye of the beholder. The cold hard truth is that even the most clueless can recognize the difference between great composition and technique, and sloppy rubbish.

Equally, the present variety of distribution methods give the rubbish the same footing and the best.
Many great images are passed by, because they are buried on "page 802 of 2,876 found", whether at giant pro stock websites or community based sites. Resources and technology are not there to separate the wheat from the chaff. Yet. That will change.

Once you can search everywhere instantly, content will as they say "be King".

But, today, many buyers of images don't have the time or fortitude to scroll through 1,867,396 images of a New York City skyline. They're just looking for one image, to blow the socks of their customers and hold their attention for a fraction of a second. They still call one, maybe two photo libraries. Time is in short supply, employees expensive.

We are clearly not done with this digital revolution. I remember working for a photo library in London 20 years ago. Our biggest worry was how to compete with an American agency called The Image Bank. TIB had the best photographers and the best imagery, and the best photo catalogs. Where is TIB today? (it is around, but you do have to look).What are "photo catalogs"? It seems very unlikely that today's current players will be around in the future. Technology and the marketplace have a nasty way of upsetting things.

Whatever way people choose to distribute photography, it will be the great images that people will buy again and again.

I once had a good friend and fellow photographer who I admired greatly. He started working in East Germany, a photo agent in the West saw his work and helped get him out (no details I'm afraid). He worked with a View Camera and produced timeless scenics of the finest quality. He would live in a Camper van and Scout in the same country for a year or more, coming back to the same location, making notes in a small notebook. Eventually, in the right season, on the right day, with the right weather, at the right time he would make the image.

How do we know these were "right"? Because in the merciless eyes of the market place, people would put down good money tens of thousands of times a year to buy these images. Thats how he got to spend years traveling around the world instead of sitting in a cubicle that smells of sweat, typing into a computer, and hating his boss. He of course became a millionaire (EUR/USD). Even today, with scenic images selling for around USD45 his earnings remain substantial.

If you need a definition of the "right" images, that's the only one that counts.

Its not professional photographers who define what is right, its the marketplace. Professionals
just have more of a clue about what it takes to make a living. If they loose that, they're done.
And so they should be.

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The Rise of Crowdsourcing

  • Read the original article about crowdsourcing, published in the June, 2006 issue of Wired Magazine.