power to the people? from open-source journalism to open-source religion

By now the open-source, web 2.0, collaborative creation of content debate is no longer new, and indeed, no longer a debate. The movement is here and it is not silent. And it continues to grow into just about every segment of culture, some of which I must confess I did not see coming. And some of which, I must confess, I am glad to see coming.

Most of the griping about this movement seems to be popularly expressed by those whose livelihoods are built on responsible information architecture and discovery. It seems, though, that the world would rather have greater, more ubiquitous, unrefined, customizable access to unevaluated information rather than learn to navigate the rather cryptic systems designed not so much to assist the researcher as to assist the cataloger. Wikipedia, then, becomes the standard reference source. Del.icio.us becomes the new internet guide.

But here is what I didn’t expect: rather than competing and attempting to convince the world of the value of professional information folks, they have now joined the fray. From libraries, to journalism, to religion, open-source is increasingly the new American way even among the establishment authorities.

Get ready for crowdsourcing, a trend to reassign a job traditionally performed by an employed authority in a particular field to an undefined large group of people in the form of an open call over the Internet. Two examples:

Open-Source Journalism
From the Assignment Zero project website:

Welcome to Assignment Zero.

Inspired by the open source movement, this is an attempt to bring journalists together with people in the public who can help cover a story. It’s a collaboration among NewAssignment.Net, Wired, and those who chose to participate.

The investigation takes place in the open, not behind newsroom walls. Participation is voluntary; contributors are welcomed from across the Web. The people getting, telling and vetting the story are a mix of professional journalists and members of the public — also known as citizen journalists. This is a model I describe as “pro-am.”

The “ams” are simply people getting together on their own time to contribute to a project in journalism that for their own reasons they support. The “pros” are journalists guiding and editing the story, setting standards, overseeing fact-checking, and publishing a final version.

In this project, we’re trying to crowdsource a single story…

Here’s the unexpected part: rather than competing with “open-source” journalism such as the Assignment Zero project, the Washington Examiner is joining the movement with its WECAN project.

Open-Source Theology
I have three examples here. Okay, maybe four.

  1. Open-source religion is a topic being covered at the Assignment Zero project’s Assignment Desk. It will be interesting to read their collaborative conclusions.
  2. The Detroit Free Press had an article yesterday (March 17, 2007) in which it profiled a particular church “as among Michigan’s pioneers in embracing the idea of crowdsourcing congregations — inviting the members to express themselves and shape the church’s worship and programs.” Okay, so I’m somewhat sympathetic here.
  3. There is even a blog dedicated to what it calls “open-source theology.” They claim to be “a model for doing community-based ‘theology’.” Theological crowdsourcing, in other words.
  4. And finally, a question. What is the relationship between the various congregational church polities and open-source ecclesiology? To what extent does this explain the occasional tension between church leaders and “lay” members (the perceived establishment of hierarchical authorities similar to the role of librarians vs. internet in libraries, traditional journalists vs. bloggers at newspapers, or even the editors of Encyclopedia Britannica vs. Wikipedia)?

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