On the last day of February, I completed my first half-marathon during the Tel Aviv marathon, an event with over 40,000 other participants. Those who know me might wonder why I would be attracted to participate in such an event in the first place. I don’t like crowds. In fact, during my daily run, I sometimes cross paths with a dog or the occasional fox, but I rarely see another human being. It could be one of the reasons I live on a small kibbutz community on a relatively isolated hilltop.
For the first few minutes of the marathon, I was overwhelmed by the masses and the noise, but I was quickly swept up by the positive power of the crowd. Two guys asked if I had spare safety pins. Another couple asked me to take a photo of them before the run. Someone checked with me to make sure they were standing in the right queue. A small group of us bunched together with our pacers (volunteers who assist whoever wants to join them to keep a steady pace, give advice and encouragement along the way and are there to help you finish). Throughout the race, I felt the power of the crowd, not only from the sheer numbers of runners ahead and behind me, but from the people lining the streets cheering us on, other runners whooping when we reached each milestone and the young people handing us water at the water stops.
Many start-ups are now harnessing the power of the crowd: using the data or input that masses of people provide to create platforms or services based on that data. The ability to collect, analyze and use data promises to be a huge breakthrough in many different industries. A few that spring to mind —
- Many transportation start-ups aggregate data in real-time to help with navigation, public transportation planning and parking.
- Health and medical technologies are tapping into crowdsourcing not only to improve what we know about a treatment, but to arrive at innovative solutions to problems. Instead of only relying on long-term research, data provided by patients can be analyzed in real time to improve a treatment. For example, millions of people use diet and exercise apps daily, which reveal reams about health habits and their affect on physiology (heart rate, blood pressure, calories burned and more).
- Accurate weather conditions or changes in weather for specific geographic locations have applications for travel and shipment planning, traffic management and marketing consumer products. Weathermob has its finger on the pulse of weather conditions, thanks to the crowd.
- Food waste is a hot topic in the media. News programs report on developed countries’ ability to grow and produce food for many more people than we actually manage to feed — and the tremendous amount that gets wasted. Social entrepreneurs have realized that the crowdsourcing model can help solve food waste.
- At a time when raising money or financing any project — from writing a book to producing a movie, to manufacturing a new product — is difficult by traditional bank loans or investment funds, through platforms like Kickstarter, the crowd can finance worthwhile projects that may never have seen the light of day.
A sworn introvert I remain, but even I am intrigued by imagining more ways to source the power of the crowd.
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