Kill the trolls and keep tasks simple

Creator of gives tips on crowdsourcing

To realise the benefits of crowdsourcing — outsourcing tasks to a group of people or a community — community designers need to stick to certain rules, says social media consultant Derek Powazek.

Crowdsourcing should be a safe bet, but often it doesn't work as the outsourcer had planned, he said when presenting at the Webstock conference in Wellington.

The tasks given to a crowd or community need to be small and simple, such as the thumbs up or down-type tasks of websites like Hot or Not, where the community rates the appearance of a person in a photo, and Threadless, where the community votes for the best t-shirt design, says Powazek. Wikipedia is another example where many, many small tasks have built a strong community and a successful website.

Ideally, the group should be large and diverse, and there needs to be a "selfish" element to the tasks — in order to get people to do something they need to feel like they are doing it for themselves, he says. Tagging photos on photo-sharing site Flickr is one example. People are doing that for themselves, not necessarily to benefit the Flickr community, he says.

Often, the results of crowdsourcing is a game of some sort, for example scoring points or ranking highly in some other way. While this could be a great way of making your community website more successful, Powazek recommends making the way to win the game into a contribution to the community.

Powazek created the community around, which began as a website where true first-person stories were presented, each with their own design. The site then evolved into a series of live storytelling events, Fray Days and Fray Cafes, that took place all over the world, attended by thousands of people, he says. Now it has changed again into a quarterly series of books, which Powazek edits.

He also talked about the importance of stopping trolls, people who post provoking, irrelevant, off-topic or mean messages in an online community with the sole purpose of upsetting others and disrupting normal activity.

He recommends not giving trolls any attention, and instead give them "the silent treatment" or "time-outs" from the community. When building a community site, it is a good idea to include tools for dealing with bad behaviour, he says.

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