Crowdsourcing hits Sundance

A friend posted this short, collaborative film on Facebook the other day. It was cute, and included an actor I like, so I was amused. At first.

After exploring the hitRECord site a bit, however, I was amazed. While the short film was written and filmed the way many are – as a collaboration of the few – its final(?) iteration is the product of crowdsourcing, via members of hitRECord. Happily for my purposes, a kind user on the site mapped out a timeline of its production.

Now, this is a site created and sponsored by a pretty well-known guy. He has connections. He can fund project entry into Sundance, and he’s the one who ultimately decides what gets a big-boy push and what doesn’t. Not all of us can do this to this level of success.


It’s still an amazing example of this new sort of creativity that the Web 2.0, along with the open licensing concept, is facilitating. Some artists are letting go of this evanescent concept of copyright, letting it go fluttering away, recognizing that art can come from the controlled chaos that is crowdsourcing. Imogen Heap, Robin Sloan, and clearly Joseph Gordon Leavitt understand that a filtering system of studios and editors and publishing companies weed out the crud, sure. But sometimes, they weed out really good stuff, too, and it’s been too long that we considered that an acceptable loss.

Plus, the industry is an industry now. It’s not a guild, not a gathering of craftsmen. It’s a machine (I’m talking both Hollywood and the publishing industry here). And what machine-made stuff makes up for in uniformity and profit margins, it loses in originality, inspiration, and the unexpected.

I’ve spent my day trying to come up with a term for this, a word that encapsulates this evolution of art from the soup of a planet full of minds. It doesn’t simply emerge, whole, nor does everyone who participates in its creation play an equal role. It’s not complete synergy leading to synthesis. I keep seeing it as an ongoing genesis, and I don’t mind invoking intertextual references here to the book of Genesis.

I’ve always said writers (no matter the genre) are the gods of their own universes. Generally, I’m referring to characters when I say this, meaning we create these worlds and we set down people/entities into them, and watch them go, watch them interact, sometimes guiding or interfering, but never forcing them to behave like automatons.

Today, I feel I can expand that metaphor to not only include the characters in this created world, but the RL participants as well. With this new interactive and collaborative technology, participants either behave as tourists, reading and viewing the world but not changing it, or they are co-producers…eventually becoming co-generators as their original contributions shape new iterations of the storyworld.

There exists a continuum on this idea of storyworld genesis. On the one end (let’s call it the far right, shall we?), you have what we now call the “traditional” model of author/creator. They are a totalitarian god, creating the world, letting you see it (and most times not even all of it, if you consider the process of creation, drafts, and cuts part of the whole work), but never letting you alter it, never letting you actually touch it. They love their copyrights and DRM, don’t they?

On the other end (you called it, the far left. And yes, I’m aware of the mixed theological/political metaphors. It’s not a…perfect metaphor), you have those oh-so-generous gods whose art is your art. They don’t even put their names on it. They throw it out like candy at a parade, like socialists Marx would be truly proud of. Their work is communal.

Now, most of us, even those who lean left, will fall somewhere in the middle. We want people to know when we’ve created something spectacular, or when we’ve contributed something amazing. Note the attachment people have to their handles in online forums, which are generally anonymous, apart from the cyberidentity you create in your online interactions. Most contributors to crowdsourcing projects don’t get anything out of them, other than the satisfaction of seeing their name attached. That doesn’t mean crowdsourcing isn’t attractive to the participants, or successful (Wikipedia, anyone?)

So, yes, I want my name on my storyworld. But I also want to see what other people can do inside it, beyond the feeble limits of my own imagination.

Postscript: For a fully fictional demonstration of this concept of the tourist vs. co-generator participant, see Jasper Fforde’s novels. In his world, people can enter books as tourists. If, however, they enter the original manuscript, their interactions within that world alter all the copies of that text forever. Loved the concept then, still love it now.

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