Brain Pickings

Crowdsourcing 2010: Behind the3six5 Project

by

An experiment in the collaborative authorship of history and our collective reality.

Today, we’re picking the brains behind the3six5 — a new blog-project that invites a different, often famous, person to write an entry for each of the 365 days in 2010, essentially crowdsourcing a snapshot of the year. So far, the project has enlisted a varied spectrum of personalities — from writers to comedians to TED speakers to, well, us. (Mark your calendars — we’re going on February 9.)

We sit down with co-conspirators Len Kendall and Daniel Honigman for a chat about the inspiration behind the3six5, its challenges and its ultimate goals.

q0

Hey guys, good to have you. Tell us a bit about yourselves, your background and your brand of curiosity.

Len: I’m a Chicago native, a first generation member of my family, and a digital marketing guy. My brand of curiosity stems from my desire to always be learning and discovered. I’m a self proclaimed “Expert at Nothing” which is a personal reminder to never consider myself a master of any discipline.

My career is a direct result of my interest in bridging creativity and business. I’ve spent time at 2 Chicago ad agencies focusing on digital media and currently am helping lead the charge of “Digital PR” at Golin Harris Chicago where I work with over a dozen major brands.

Daniel: I’m a news guy. I fell in love with journalism when I was an undergrad in college, and I moved to Chicago to study it. I started my career as a reporter, and then sort of fell into the digital/social media world when I started to cover it.

I then landed a gig at the Chicago Tribune as its first social media “person,” where I created and ran its Colonel Tribune persona, after which I then moved up to lead social media strategy for all Tribune newspapers and television sites. I started at Weber Shandwick in June 2009, where I work with brands to interact with consumers and best tell their stories digitally.

Whether I’m working with brands, or consulting with news organization or local businesses, my passion is working with others to help them tell their stories. I enjoy pushing the envelope, and I enjoy helping others think outside of the box.

q0

How and when did the idea for the3six5 first come up?

Len: Daniel and I are very entrepreneurial in nature and many of our discussions over cigars will revolve around potential projects we can team up on. This particular idea came up over the course of a few months and we decided to act on this one as it merged our interests of journalism, marketing, and technology (also not to mention a low cost of entry).

Daniel: We were talking one day about doing a similar storystreaming project for the city of Chicago, actually. We would gather folks from all sorts of life in town: athletes, politicians, artists and some regular, hardworking folks from the city and invite them to tell their stories.

We figured that it could be quite difficult to find 365 in Chicago, and we wanted to try to incorporate a more global perspective for the3six5 project, so we opened it up.

q2

We know from psychology that two people may undergo the exact same experience yet walk away with drastically different interpretations of and sentiments about it. Curating the lineup of contributors will thus be critical to the project’s final product. So, in a way, you’re outsourcing the content but shaping the course of it yourselves — how do you feel about that?

Len: Regardless of a person’s digital or offline footprint, we ultimately have no idea what kind of content is going to be produced over the 365 days of 2010.

No one can predict what will be taking place in the world that day and no one can predict what factors will be affecting the lives of our 365 authors in the future. All we can try to do is find people who we believe are creative, quality writers, and have a unique life experience to date.

Daniel: I feel great about that. With any big crowdsourced project (e.g. Drew McLellan and Gavin Heaton’s Age of Conversation projects) there must be a theme. There must be guidance. We want to give our contributors an idea of what they could and should be writing, as far as format, types of content, etc., but we want to give as much flexibility as possible as to the actual content itself. Think of the3six5 is a collaborative diary for the year 2010.

q3

We’re big believers in eclecticism and the cross-pollination of ideas. Are you making an effort to ensure a diverse lineup from a wide spectrum of disciplines, or are you focusing more on social media personalities? What’s your selection process for the authors?

Len: The easiest route here would obviously be to leverage our social media channels to find authors, but Daniel and I knew that the variety of perspectives would suffer. We’re using social media as a starting point for exploration and discovery.

Through both of our usage of Twitter we’ve been able to bridge relationships with people offline and in industries that are polar opposite from our own.

Sure, some of our authors may have a social media presence, but we’re looking for people who are well-versed across different types of subject matter. Having variety is critical to this project, otherwise it will just sound like a diary written by one person which is the exact opposite of what we’re trying to achieve.

Daniel: Successful social media efforts happen both online and offline, therefore, we didn’t want to limit this project to people we know online. We hope this project brings people together. We hope this project introduces folks to others they never would have met otherwise. That’s what will make the3six5 so much fun.

q4

“Lifestreaming” has evolved from musings on one’s immediate cirumstances in personal blogs to broader reflections on the chancing social, technological and cultural landscape – just look at some of the big-name blogs, from TechCruch to BoingBoing. How do you see the idea of content curation fitting in with lifestreaming?

Daniel: For A Day in the Sun, the Austin American-Statesman’s crowdsourced news project, editors and reporters received content from Austinites first, and then posted it to the web. For an open brandstream — aggregated or published — it’s easy to flood the stream with all sorts of content the brand may not want.

Therefore, for brands and news organizations to take advantage of lifestreaming platforms, the actual content, if crowdsourced, has to be verified and of an agreed upon standard.

This is not to say content in an individual’s lifestream isn’t curated. By reading an article and posting a link or other content, users are curating their own content in real time, whether they know it or not.

The purpose of a lifestream is to publish one’s digital activities for others’ benefit. Not everything you’ll read or do can — or should — be shared for others. Therefore, not ALL content should go in a lifestream.

My take is that for crowdsourced lifestream projects to be successful, editors must establish clear guidelines.

q5

A key criticism of the web is the dilution of authorship — it’s often hard and sometimes even impossible to track down the true origin and author of a piece of information online. Would you say the preservation of authorship is important in writing our own history as a society and civilization?

Len: I have mixed emotions on this topic. On one hand, if we don’t preserve authorship, then there will be less motivation for people to create content.

Let’s be honest, we’re a proud species and if we’re not getting credit for something we created, we aren’t going to want to continue. That being said, from the audience’s perspective, there isn’t much concern about who or where content comes from, we just want it to be of substance.

With the3six5 we’re going to do our best to make it very clear of who the author is each day. By showing readers a different author each day, we’re reminding them that the story is coming from a different perspective. Unlike reading a book, here the audience needs to reset its expectations each day in regards to style and personality.

Daniel: People steal credit for other people’s work — and have done so — for thousands of years. As we move forward, and with more information readily available, it’s going to be incumbent upon us to cite our original source material, as this will only lend more credence to our own original thoughts, when we do have them.

q6

Well, thanks for letting us pick your brains. Any last thoughts left unpicked?

Len: Thank you for taking the time to share our project. I’d like to take this opportunity to point your readers to our listing on Kickstarter. Although the3six5 does not require any money to work, our ultimate plan is to publish 2010 as a hard copy book and as such, we would love to have assistance with the potential publishing process. Donations will go towards buying a future book, and also an additional copy for an author of the3six5.

Details are available here.

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