Slate reports that several major news outlets, including the Washington Post and the New York Times, are planning to use crowdsourcing to scour thousands of pages of emails from her time as Governor of Alaska that will be released on Friday.
In many ways this is a perfect crowdsourcing task. It would be hugely time consuming for news reporters to sift through the more than 24,000 pages of email themselves. And automating this process would be next to impossible because what counts as “interesting” is very difficult to program into a natural language processor. On the other hand, it is relatively easy for for humans to pick out. The task comes with built in motivation: first, people are personally interested in reading Palin’s emails; second, Palin’s detractors are motivated to try and dig up embarrassing information and supporters will be motivated to respond; and third, finding something interesting comes with the promise of acknowledgement in the pages of a major news outlet. All this adds up to the fact that you don’t need to pay anyone to do this and do it well. The biggest potential pitfall is that crowdsourcing relies fundamentally on local information. Each individual looks through a handful of emails, which is good for finding particular juicy quotes, but not so good for identifying larger patterns. To combat this, the news outlets could rely on wiki-like interfaces where the crowdsourcers could post “leads” that other individuals could add to in order to piece together larger narratives.