In less than a decade, Wikipedia has grown from a frequently ridiculed experiment to one of the world’s most popular websites. The online encyclopedia has reached near-ubiquity among Internet users and is often invoked as a synecdoche for user-generated content communities, crowdsourcing, peer production, and Web 2.0. As such, it is hardly surprising that a number of high-impact statistics demonstrating the project’s unexpected success are frequently mentioned in the public sphere. As of April 2012, there have been 528 million edits made to the English-language version and a total of 1.29 billion edits across all language versions. Other commentators describe the project in terms of its article content, not the amount of work put into those articles, and such figures are equally daunting: 19 million encyclopedia articles contain 8 billion words in 270 languages, and the English-language Wikipedia alone has 3.9 million articles containing 2.5 billion words.
While most of these and other statistics are backed up by a substantial amount of empirical research, estimations of the total number of labor-hours contributed to Wikipedia are one notable exception. However, this has not stopped champions of the project from stating with more and less certainty that Wikipedia is one of the largest projects in human history…
…[A] well-documented and often-repeated labor hour estimation is that of the Empire State Building, which took 3,000 laborers a total of 7 million labor-hours to construct. Figures for the construction of the Channel Tunnel report a total 170 million labor-hours, while estimations of the Great Pyramid at Giza range from 880 million to 3.5 billion labor-hours. The first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica was written and published by 3 employees authoring 24 pages a week for 100 weeks, which is around 12,000 labor-hours assuming 40 hour work week…
…Summing the duration of all continuous editing sessions and single edit sessions, we identified 41,018,804 total labor-hours expended in the English-language version of Wikipedia… Extrapolating to all language version of Wikipedia based on the total number of edits made to each project, we estimate that 61,706,883 total labor-hours have been contributed in edit sessions for non-English language Wikipedias, for a total of 102,673,683 total labor-hours to all Wikipedia versions.
R. Stuart Geiger and Aaron Halfaker, Using Edit Sessions to Measure Participation in Wikipedia (PDF).
FJP: That’s approximately 11,720 years of peer production.
The idea of crowdsourcing geopolitical forecasting is increasing in popularity, and not just for spies.
Sharon Weinberger, BBC. Intelligence agencies turn to crowdsourcing.
Sharon’s talking about Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, a US Government program that crowdsources geopolitical predictions.
Sharon suggests that the crowd may foresee events that we wouldn’t guess at otherwise, like these infamous examples:
The intelligence community has often been blasted for its failure to forecast critical world events, from the fall of the Soviet Union to the Arab Spring that swept across North Africa and the Middle East. It was also heavily criticized for its National Intelligence Estimate in 2002, which supported claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
The latest site, however, is their most interesting. It’s called Global Crowd Intelligence and its creators have catered to our (that is, human) desires for competition, games, and fun.
Indeed, what users wanted, it turned out, was something competitive, so that’s what the company has given them. The new website rewards players who successfully forecast future events by giving them privileged access to certain “missions,” and also allowing them to collect reputation points, which can then be used for online bragging rights. When contributors enter the new site, they start off as junior analysts, but eventually progress to higher levels, allowing them to work on privileged missions.
Appealing to people is, after all, a good way to solicit information from them.
Sharon looks elsewhere, too, where other crowds are making guesses of their own. At Wikistrat, a privately owned, self-titled Massively Multiplayer Online Consultancy (MMOC, seriously) has guessed at possible outcomes for Syria.
In the short term, I think the notion of crowdsourcing will be overvalued. Lots of companies that have no business going into crowdsourcing will get into it. But over 10 years, over the long term, the idea of crowdsourcing won’t even be distinguishable from editorial.