Besides being a regular correspondent and colleague, our guest blogger today, Venkatesh Rao, has the distinction of writing one of the most penetrating reviews of my book in print or online. Venkat does crowdsourcing research at Xerox, and has also been one of the most consistently interesting voices in the broad area of online collaboration, and I was pleased to have him contribute the following post. It's an open call for contributions to an interesting contest, but better, it's a thoughtful examination on how the crowd and the cloud, two overused and misunderstood terms, relate.
Crowdsourcing and Cloudworking
What happens when on-demand technology meets the crowd? You get the cloudworker: somebody who uses the power of work-anywhere-anytime technology to craft a my-size-fits-me career. Earlier this week, the not-for-profit site, cloudworker.org , launched in beta mode, with a contest that invites participants to submit anything they like—blogs, pictures of workspaces, videos, twitter feeds—that showcases their cloudworker lifestyles. The contest is rather festively titled "Light up your cloud." You can enter until December 28th (there's a bunch of cool prizes, including audio equipment, signed copies of the Crowdsourcing audiobook sponsored by Jeff, and signed copies of Adventures of Johnny Bunko, sponsored by Dan Pink). The plan for the site is to run monthly contests aimed at discovering, and perhaps inventing, the future of work.
The story of how this site came to be is pretty interesting, and I played a small part: coming up with the word cloudworker. (Random aside: the chemist Berzelius was more famous for coining terms than for doing actual chemistry. He came up with, among other things "catalysis", "polymer", "isomer" and "allotrope.")
Here's what happened: Last month, headphone-maker Plantronics ran a crowdsourcing contest to invent a replacement for the dated '70s term, telecommuter. The term has definitely been due for an update, given that increasingly, there is no defined 'there' to commute to or stable 'here' to commute from. Five hundred crowd-contributed entries were whittled down to 10 by a panel of judges, and the crowd stepped in again to pick the winner by popular vote. My dog in the fight—cloudworker—won the day.
The story might have ended there, since I had no plans to go beyond armchair analysis (I've been writing a series of articles on the cloudworker, and his granddaddy, the Organization Man on my business/innovation blog, ribbonfarm.com). But then some friends from an innovation/design startup, WilsonCoLab, decided it would be cool to take the cloudworker concept and run with it. Very flattering. So they launched cloudworker.org, another experiment in the modern tradition of using contests to do research. I donated most of the prizes I won from Plantronics (about $1500 worth of audio equipment) to the cloudworker.org prize kitty, and I like to think of what they are trying to do as mini X-prizes for inventing the future of work.
So if you think you are living out an innovative un-career that is helping define the future of work, do go and enter the contest. You might win, but more importantly, you'll get to participate in redefining the nature of work. But coming back to crowds and clouds, how do they relate?