You, your skateboarder friends, your professional architect uncle, your dishwasher cousin and everyone else in the world are being asked to design a bus stop.
Crowd sourcing, the idea that a problem may be solved better by the masses than by a select group of professionals, is being tested on a bus stop for the Business Loop of the University of Utah campus.
Designs may be submitted at nextstopdesign.com. If you don't want to design a bus stop, you can visit the site and vote on designs that people have submitted to the project. The final day for submissions and voting is Friday.
The crowd-sourcing project is the doctorate dissertation for U. communication student Daren Brabham. He received a $110,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration to build and maintain the Web site, publicize it and pay six research professors who are helping him.
For a design to be considered to win, it must have at least 25 votes. The three top designs will be considered winners. "Then we're going to put forward those top winners to UTA and try to pressure them to adopt it as much as they can," Brabham said.
Thus far, there are more than 2,500 registered users on the site. About 210 designs have been submitted from people from Logan to the United Kingdom, said Annie Maxfield, who's publicizing the project.
Crowd sourcing is more common in business. "My research is trying to translate the model to the government and nonprofits," Brabham said.
Some of the popular businesses that use crowd sourcing are threadless.com, a site that sells T-shirts and sweatshirts based on designs submitted and chosen by registered users, and innocentive.com, where scientists can win money for solving research and development problems.
Crowd sourcing is a relatively new concept. In 2004, the New Yorker's James Surowiecki wrote a book, "The Wisdom of the Crowds," based on the same idea: that solutions may best be found in large groups of people rather than an elite few.
The term "crowd sourcing" first appeared in a 2006 Wired magazine article, although it "can arguably be understood as having a much older tradition in things like New England town meetings or barn buildings, places where publics come together to deliberate policies or solve problems together," said Henry Jenkins, a professor of Communications, Journalism and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California and author of "Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide."
There are plenty of critiques of crowd sourcing: That the untrained, unprofessional crowd will submit answers of poor quality, and so the crowd can only choose the best of those. That the democratic notions of crowd sourcing may be more important than getting jobs done efficiently. Jenkins said that in government, crowds will contribute solutions but the experts will contribute the most, "so it is wrong to think of this as experts vs. collective intelligence, at least at the level of governmental use of crowd sourcing."
Brabham's research will consider the problems with crowds. "There's definitely a concern this kind of problem-solving model even works," he said. "That's why we're testing it. We're going to do some follow-up tests to judge quality" ?— specifically, he hopes to submit the winning designs to professional architects for their opinions on the designs.
The Utah Transit Authority is interested in Brabham's research because it's changing the way government — or quasi-government agencies like UTA — can interact with the public, said Jerry Benson, UTA's chief operating officer.
Typically, UTA staff or contractors design bus stops. Brabham's project is led by the crowd.
Although UTA is not promising it will build any of the winning designs, Benson said UTA would consider them.
"We have to evaluate the public input and the design that comes through this in terms of legal requirements, engineering and safety requirements. We want something that works for customers, but it has to be feasible, safe and affordable to us."
After Brabham determines the strengths and weaknesses in nextstopdesign.com, he will design another crowd-sourcing project: a bus stop design for 2100 South and 900 East.