December 1, 2006

Crowdsourcing Helps Investigators

The concept of “crowdsourcing” is getting a lot of press for being used by news organizations, but it can also be a help to accident investigators, they’re finding out in Washington State. The idea behind crowdsoucing is that a whole group of people out in a community can do a much better job at collecting data than just one or two reporters or researchers. Gannett not too long ago announced that they’d be using the community to help them gather news.

Now accident investigators in Washington State are using the public to help in their investigations. This is related to the crane collapse that happened in Bellevue a couple of weeks ago. All the investigators had to work with was the aftermath of the collapse, a wrecked crane on the ground. But then someone came forward with a photo they had taken of the crane a week or two before, that showed it leaning slightly to one side. That got investigators thinking that there must be other photos out there, so they put out a public call for pictures of the crane when it was still standing. To date about 10 people have sent in photos, from just about every angle, and they’re being collected into a book that’s becoming a crucial part of the investigation. This is something the investigators couldn’t have done by themselves; they can’t go back in time. And it’s not going to work in every situation. There’s something about a skyline full of cranes that attracts more photographers than a more mundane subject. But people had noticed the tilt before the tower fell, so they took pictures.

The next step, the article says, is to gather this kind of information before an accident happens. It’s great that there are all these pictures collected after the collapse, but what if they had somehow been gathered before? Might someone had taken notice that there was a problem, and taken steps to make sure the crane didn’t collapse? It’s hard for any one person to spot trends like that, but people as a group usually have a lot more power than individuals.

So crowdsourcing is something that will grow in prominence over time, especially if we start getting people to walk around with their eyes open and think of themselves as information gatherers. That’s what I’m shooting for with Around Carson, and just yesterday someone reported a “Coming Soon” sign in a part of town I rarely go to. So if sites like this can act to funnel the wisdom of the crowds, all of us end up smarter and better informed for it.

And if you see a leaning crane, stop for a couple of seconds and take a picture.

Filed under The Computer Vet Weblog

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  1. Myrna the Minx says:

    Cool, I tried to investigate how Gannet was doing this with the Iowa newspaper that was noted in whatever article I read on the subject and couldn’t find evidence of “crowdsourcing” at the time. Maybe its there now….was it a Des Moines’ paper? Anyway–you and I both know how hard it is to get people interested enough to actually participate on a deeper level than just reading. Maybe if we cause an “accident” and then ask people to solve it?

    Posted December 1, 2006 @ 7:52 pm
  2. Kalrac says:

    Just make sure you’re taking that picture from a safe distance…
    Just yesterday, they had to perform an emergency tear down of one of the cranes because it had a crack in the base. I think I’m going to work in a hard hat from now on.

    Posted December 2, 2006 @ 8:01 am

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