Not Citizen Journalism… but what is Crowd Sourcing exactly? Who cares, it’s great.

I am starting to get fed up with the MPs expenses scandal, I mean who hasn’t put in a dodgy expenses claim (though I suspect a moat and a duck house are two of the most unusual… even a bunch of creatives with a Cannes Lion in mind couldn’t come up with gems like that). But one thing that has happened since the full (or at least partly full seeing as how the juiciest bits have been blacked out) list of expenses was released last week has been the Guardian launching a ‘crowd sourcing’ project asking members of the public to look over the volumes of expenses data released last week and report anything they think may be worthy of further investigation.

As the Guardian says on its website, there is nearly half a million thousand pages of data of which over 21,000 people have reviewed a third of these so far. The Guardian is asking people to review these and then report back anything that might be of interest which they can then look into further and start to build a big picture of what has been going on.

I couldn’t help myself but have a sneak at my local MP.For mylocal member of parliament,a Tory peer no less, there are 292 pages of expenses that are available to view from 2005 onwards. Each page you look at asks you to classify the type of page it is by clicking the relevant button (a claim, a receipt, a cover page etc.)and you can mark it as whether it’s interesting and needs investigation, interesting but already known, or not worth investigating. It’s good fun, I highly recommend it, though I doubt I’ll ever get any answers as to why he has to have a weekly railcard as well as a monthly one (especially as his constituency is a ten minute bus ride away from Westminster and you couldn’t travel there by rail even if you wanted to) and why on earth our taxes should be funding the wholly partisan Kensington & Chelsea Conservatives Foundation (primary aim to support and sustain Conservative values in the area, though probably not much of a stretch in that part of town) – shame on Sir Rifkind for his expenses.

This kind of thing is fantastic. There is no way that a Guardian journalist could sift through all of this quickly enough to pick out any headlines that the Telegraph hasn’t yet thought of. I can imagine many ways in which it could be used. Environmental groups could go crazy for this kind of thing, as would shareholders of public companies. It’s a great way to get interested members of the public to wade through pages and pages of detail at no cost to the media owner. There may not yet be an obvious commercial application for this kind of involvement however as the issue would have to be wide enough to attract interest, and the subject matter would have to involve hundreds of thousands of documents to make it worthwhile asking for help on this scale.

No matter if a large amount of the 21,000 people who have so far done this may be members of opposing parties looking to do some dirt-slinging of their own, or even MPs wondering if they really have done something dodgy when seeing it in black and white from the public’s point of view (answer yes: all of this stuff looks dodgy to me!), this is a great exercise and well done to the Guardian for setting this up. I look forward to seeing what they do with the cases that have been reported. Hopefully despite expenses claims fatigue, they will find some way to take these crowd sourcing results and produce something interesting and engaging for their readers to benefit from. Fantastic idea, and a great way of using the net and bringing people in to a big story. Another great use of online from the Guardian.

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