Does Crowd-Sourcing Work in the Long Term?

Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant...

Is Wikipedia about to fall over like a domino?

As Newsweek noted last week:

“Thousand of volunteer editors [for Wikipedia], the loyal Wikipedians who actually write, fact-check, and update all of those articles, logged off – many for good. For the first time, more contributors appeared to be dropping out than joining up. Activity on the site has remained stagnant, accorrding to a spokesperson for the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit behind the site, and it’s become ‘a really serious issue.'”

As the story notes, there are lots of theories about why Wikipedia is struggling.  But at the heart of it seems to be this simple premise: Writing, editing and research are hard work.

And Wikipedia relies solely on unpaid volunteers.  You have to be extremely dedicated – or have a lot of free time – to keep providing hours and hours of free services for relatively little to no reward.  Wikipedia made a splash when it first launched and had people lining up to help, but the “newness” and “coolness” factor have worn off.

Other user-generated content sites – Digg, TripAdvisor, Yelp, etc. – may soon find themselves in the same boat.  As the Newsweek piece notes, that’s why many of these site are enhancing their rewards programs to frequent users.  So far that seems to be working, but will it in the long term?

Can organizations and businesses have a long-term, viable future if they rely on free content from outsiders?  Can a corps of volunteers be relied upon to populate a web site with consistent and quality content?  Is crowd sourcing sustainable?

We’re going to find out in the next couple of years.

As I’ve written before: Social media (blogging in particular) is hard work.  Very hard work.  And almost as hard as producing content is producing it on a consistent basis.

Even the most dedicated and passionate bloggers go through dry spells: Ideas dry up, other work gets in the way, etc.  And you have to be passionate to blog because less than 4% of bloggers make enough money to do it full time – the rest are volunteers.  But at least bloggers have a chance of becoming popular and mainstream enough to make a go at it professionally.  The same can’t be said for heavy users of Wikipedia.

What do you think?  Can crowd-sourcing work in the long term?


Newsweek article “Take This Blog and Shove It”

Do Blogs Naturally Run Out of Gas?

Guess What? Blogging is Hard Work

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