I have to admit, I’d never heard the term “crowdsourcing” until reading some articles in Wired dealing with a collaboration with Assignment Zero, describing a collaborative experiment in open-source journalism. This sort of collective approach to journalism underpins a project like Witness, which enlists everyone with the ability to record digital video (aka the “crowd source”) as a recorder of any abuse of human rights. It’s so very new media or media 2.0 to promote the ethic of capturing the power of the herd to create and inform one another. Yet there’s a darker side to this thought process, best explained in the fascinating interview in Wired with Douglas Rushkoff, “What Does Crowdsourcing Really Mean?”

I don’t intend to rehash Rushkoff’s thoughts here; I strongly encourage you to read the interview for yourself. One subtlety of this article triggered my blogging impulses, inspiring me to riff. Rushkoff comes at his thinking from the dual perspectives of open source software and new media, an oft mentioned and explored pairing of social phenomena, yet he pushes the shared ethos behind these movements into the realms of religion and economics. Now that’s really interesting. Essentially, he’s doing what Kim Stanley Robinson did in his wonderful Mars books: exploring the influence of a new environment on our core activities in life, and postulating how social building blocks such as worship of deity or exchange of currency may be altered.

This sort of extrapolation makes sense when you consider “media” is about the interaction of people. Certainly, most of us don’t consider a telephone conversation media, but maybe that’s because the conversation is transient and not memorialized in any way. This applied to email as well; even though email is stored electronically, it rarely becomes memorialized, and most often gets read and deleted or simply forgotten. Usenet? Blogging? Sure, I think of these mediums as media.

When I think of politics and media, newspapers, television, blogging, etc. all apply. After all, the 2008 US Elections have been dubbed the “YouTube Elections.” But if a political speech is considered media, why not a bill or a law? These are written documents meant to convey information, and also to be interpreted, possibly in very different ways by different legal authorities. Yet I don’t really think of a law as a piece of media. Maybe the key to deciphering this riddle lies back in the Rushkoff interview in Wired.

Rushkoff speaks of a novel he wrote about the DotCom era, which he then posted on the Web, soliciting readers to participate in the creation of annotation with each participant playing the role of an anthropologist 200 years in the future, trying to make sense of the books contents. Great idea, if I don’t say so myself.

What if we applied this notion to a law? Post a law on the Web and solicit interpretation from the crowd in the context of a legal challenge. You may scoff at this notion, but have you read any briefs of recent Supreme Court decisions? The bar is pretty low nowadays.