With the Kony 2012 video going viral – 77 million views on YouTube when I last looked (albeit  only about 10%  of Justin Bieber’s Baby video) – it struck me that this is activism on a massive scale.  Infact, it’s a form of crowdsourcing a solution to a longstanding problem that for most of us, would have otherwise continued to be largely unknown.  Social networking has fuelled the interest through word of mouth.  I started seeing references to it on Monday and thought I should know about it.  I was late.  It was released on March 5th and by last Friday it had already had 26 million views. The film has caused a storm with lots of controversy reverberating around the Internet over who funds Invisible Children (the organisation behind the film), what’s the real agenda and is this some kind of spoof or conspiracy.  But, regardless of what you believe, you cannot fail to be impressed by how it’s got the twittersphere chattering.  It’s certainly got people talking.

Coincidentally, I was watching a TED talk recently from Luis von Ahn, the guy who invented Captcha codes – those annoying squiggly words that you’re asked to enter on website pages that prove you are a human rather than a computer.  I was interested to hear that I’d been participating in a massive crowdsourcing initiative and didn’t even know.  Captcha codes, or to be precise ReCaptcha codes, are being used to digitise books.  Some old books, due to discolouration and damage,  cannot be digitised using optical character recognition (OCR).  They need human intervention to confirm some of the words.  To pay for this would be prohibitively expensive.  Now, ReCaptcha codes present two random words , one of which is the word that authenticates you as a human, the other is a word that could not be verified by the OCR computer.   By getting the authentication word correct means that you are likely to get the other word correct too.  A random sample is checked and hey presto, we are digitising books, one word at a time at the rate of about 100 million words per day or 2.5 million books per year. And all for free.  Genius. von Ahn’s next mass collaboration project is to translate the web into each of the major languages. It’s estimated that to completely translate Wikipedia from English into one other language would cost around $50m – to translate the whole of the web, too many zeros to contemplate.   Check out http://duolingo.com/ to find out how he plans to harness the power of the crowd to translate the web.  For free.  More genius.

Do you have any examples of mass collaboration that you’d like to share? I’m particularly interested in your experience of how businesses are using innovative crowdsourcing and crowdservicing solutions to solve longstanding business issues.  Start the discussion!

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