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Why We Are Compelled to Partner with Crowd-Based Storytellers

by May 4, 2011

Having just received several thoughtful comments on two recent blog posts—one about the rights of crowd-sourced workers; the other about crowdsourcing incentives—it seems worthwhile to step back and discuss why it is we at Dialogue Earth are so interested in relying on storytellers from the crowd to bring potentially dull science-based points to life. Also, and perhaps more importantly, I’d like to lay out what success would look like for us.

We were motivated to explore crowd-sourced video production because of our modest budget and the sense that this would be cost-effective route. Another key reason, however, is that we have been seeking a content production approach that would feature lots of different approaches to telling stories. For us, relying on storytellers from the “crowd” would ensure a steady stream of new ideas and fresh approaches, setting the stage for content that would become widely distributed across the Web because it appealed to a range of audience segments.

By way of example, we have been delighted to see the variety of ideas sparked by the crowd. From telling the story of ocean acidification with a snail who forms a band, a displaced mermaid, and grandma’s fruitcake. Similarly, to giving a brief introduction to our energy system with a pair of hamsters planning their escape and a flamboyant Uncle Sam eating his way through the U.S. energy portfolio.

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We fully realize that we’re a bit of a unique client for the big crowd-sourced vendors. We are nonprofit because we believe this will help to diffuse assumptions that Dialogue Earth has a profit motive behind its public mission of getting good information into the dialogue. Because we are operating on a nonprofit-esque budget, this means that it is unlikely we will be able to sustain large prize purses in the open crowdsourcing model (lots of contestants, few yet highly-rewarded winners), variations of which are offered by Tongal and Poptent. Similarly, we are unlikely to be able to underwrite the costs of a highly curated, agency-level crowd, such as is offered through Genius Rocket.

Does this mean that, in the end, crowdsourcing is not an option for Dialogue Earth? No, we believe that there is plenty of room for creating a crowdsourcing model that is a win-win for us and creators. We realize that this model will not be attractive to every creator considering crowdsourcing opportunities, yet we continue to believe that there will be sustained participation from a diverse pool of creators from across the globe assuming we can tune the incentives appropriately.

What will success look like for Dialogue Earth? It is quite simple. Our videos will attract tons of views because they are highly engaging. Viewers spread the word, resulting in more views. In a given video, there are several key points about a topic of interest to Dialogue Earth that have been expressed in a manner that is faithful to the underlying science and technology. Viewers take away one or more of these points, enriching their understanding of the topic. When viewers “look under the hood” they will are reassured that the messages in our media products have been widely endorsed by experts from across society, rather than reflecting the agenda of a advocacy organization. Finally, because of our non-advocacy approach, well-vetted information, and “controlled crowdsourcing” approach, corporate underwriters will find this to be a very attractive investment to enhance their brand’s corporate social responsibility image.

What will success look like for creators? This is also quite simple. As outlined in our post about worker rights, creators will understand how their work will be used and how they will be compensated. We believe that it is essential that creators get feedback along the way to help them gauge their probability of success. Perhaps most importantly, our image of success for creators is that they are compensated based on the number of views their video or other multimedia receive.

In an ideal world, we would like to see 10 or more storytellers take on the task of explaining a topic, like solar energy. We would like to see them receive feedback of the sort that is most useful to them to understand if they are on track—I plan to post more on this in the next few days. We would like to “pull along” a cohort of creators that are serious about a given project, helping them to create media that is faithful to the key points, yet allowing them free-reign in the creativity department. Then, as their creations are viewed widely, they would be generously rewarded.


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