Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Assignment Zero

About Assignment Zero

Jay Rosen designed Assignment Zero to test "whether large groups of widely scattered people, working together voluntarily on the net, can report on something happening in their world right now, and by dividing the work wisely tell the story more completely." As a first attempt we've chosen to look at a small but growing trend, called crowdsourcing, and the larger practice it's part of— peer production on the new information commons.

Assignment Zero is an editorial project of NewAssignment.Net, in which we're collaborating with, with Newsvine helping. NewAssignment.Net, founded by Jay Rosen, is a non-profit pilot project housed in the Department of Journalism at New York University, where Rosen teaches. Its misson is to spark innovation in "open platform" reporting by doing it and causing others to do--and develop--the practice. The site you are at is an example; there will be other projects, probably with different partners, after this.

NewAssignment.Net has received funding from several sources to pay for site development, design and editorial staffing, including the MacArthur Foundation,, Reuters Media, and others. The full list of funders is here. If you are interested in funding the NewAssignment's development of open platform, pro-am reporting contact Jay Rosen. The goal is $1.5 million for two years; we have raised about $450,000. We also need in-kind donations of editorial talent, tech skills and other professional services. Assignment Zero works like this:

At each step we are going to enlist the help of anyone out there who wants to see the story of crowdsourcing get properly told. Some will be or Newsvine users; the rest will come from across the Web. There's a team of about 10 editors, writers, designers and developers who are being paid to launch the platform, operate the site with users, set deadlines and organize the production of the story. They're going to take one big story -- on the spread of crowdsourcing and the people who are doing it -- and with your active assistance break that story down into interesting and reportable chunks. Some of them we already have. But we need more.

We're then going to develop those topics -- in the open, on the Assignment Desk and in the Reporters' Notebooks -- into more contoured pieces we can formally assign. Each is a part of the larger puzzle. We don't know yet how many pieces there will be.

We'll set deadlines for all those pieces, and with your help find contributors who are motivated and qualified to author them, not for pay (we're not at that stage yet...) but for public benefit and some byline glory in the final product. An "author" can be an individual writer, a team, a blog plus its users. A class could take on a subject area as an assignment, or maybe another high-participation site might take tackle an aspect of the larger story. We'll edit what comes in.

About two months from now -- not a set date, but in terms of a typical magazine schedule, soon -- Wired's Jeff Howe will write his own big story about crowdsourcing for, drawn from all the research, reporting and survey responses you've contributed to Assignment Zero. We will publish in a big, splashy package at NewAssignment.Net, everything that came in and made the editor's final cut. Wired will be free to pick and choose from that material and publish any portion of it, in print or online. What isn't in the final package at our site or at can appear elsewhere on the Net. (For more, see our Creative Commons license.)

The Story We're Covering

As a first attempt we've chosen to look at a growing trend in use of the Internet, the sort of thing Wired magazine and cover. NewAssignment.Net is actually a part of it, but the story extends well beyond possible uses in journalism. We're going to report on the spread of what's called crowdsourcing and the larger practice it's part of: peer production on the new information commons, in all of its forms.

Collaboration online -- and why it works when it does -- is an expansive and nuanced story with lots of locations. It lends itself to swarm treatment. Wired has paid attention to the crowdsourcing of products, which taps people outside the firm as potential producers, typically unpaid but doing it for their own reasons.

While the geeks invented such practices, first with free software, then with open source software, the geeks long ago lost control of it; and today crowdsourcing is on the rise across a wide social landscape, from corporate America and government to the arts. (Wikipedia calls this open source culture.) It even made the cover of Time. The story is getting famous, but the underlying trends (and lurking problems) are for the most part still thinly understood. That's where Assignment Zero comes in. We're covering it and doing it.

Are some of these terms (open source, peer production) a little fuzzy for you? See the glossary. It might help.

1 comment:

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