Exemplar: Sheep Market, Bicycle Built for 2000, Johnny Cash

I saw Aaron Koblin’s talk here last year, and it seemed relevant given how he’s explored the nature of crowd-based work. Three projects that kind of represent the bad, the ugly, and the good of crowd work:

1. The Sheep Market – He asked 10,000 people to draw a sheep for 2c each. It’s kind of neat on its own, but the really interesting thing is that he then started “selling” the sheep for $20 per block of 20, which gets you a sheet of stamps with the sheep on them and a “certificate of authenticity”. $20 is quite a markup from the 40c that those 20 sheep cost him! But it makes you think, this is just the same as every otherĀ capitalist market: one person builds a system, hundreds of others do hard-but-simple work within it, and the one who builds the system makes most of the profits. It’s pretty unequal, and crowdsourced online systems have the potential to be much more unequal.

2. Bicycle Built for 2000 – he had a computer sing a song, then broke it up into individual notes, asked people to each sing one note, then combined all the voices. The results are mostly just funny; it’s kind of a mess. What I took from it: you can’t make something like music with a crowd at such a fine granularity.

3. Johnny Cash Project – this one wasn’t paid, they just invited people to each draw one frame of a Johnny Cash music video. The result is kind of haunting and very cool. You can see the process of each person drawing one frame too. I talked with him about this afterwards, and he was saying that an important thing in these kind of systems is to let people express themselves through it. If you can somehow channel thousands of people’s self expression into one work (and celebrating a great musician helps with this), you can have something really beautiful that everyone feels like they contributed to.

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