Mark Zuckerberg ran out of ideas.
At the end of last year he turned to Facebook (what else?) to source new ways to improve himself.
For background, every year I take on a challenge to broaden my perspective and learn something about the world beyond my work at Facebook.
It is a zero-effort shortcut if you don’t know where to start with your self-improvement. Maybe, you are battling both motivation and time. Maybe, you were gung-ho but can’t climb out of a creative rut now. The good thing is – you can breathe new life into those dormant skills again.
The pick-me-up could come from the public platform of the World Wide Web.
Like Mark Zuckerberg you can crowdsource your way to better skills too. By learning with the crowd, or by benefiting from the mass of interconnected experiences.
Show Off Your Photography Skills
If you have any sort of camera and a Facebook account, you are already into tapping the world for nice feedback. But maybe, you haven’t taken it up a notch to mindfully improve your photography. We have seen a few photography projects that rely on crowdsourcing, and many stock photography sites are crowdsourced platforms. It is one of the easier ways to use your click-happy hobby for some extra cash.
Now, try Snapwire.
This is a community of passionate photographers who meet the creative vision of photo buyers. Photographers follow image requests from businesses and submit their best photos. The selected ones get paid – that’s the best feedback on your skills.
Snapwire also hosts Open Challenges which offer an open window to all buyers. A leveling system rewards photographers who progress up the chain of success. Read the Creative Briefs to get to the crux of a good photograph.
Best of all, Snapwire is designed for mobile photographers. Their FAQ should answer your questions.
Other websites to try your photography skills:
- Scoopshot – On demand news photography.
- Worth 100 — challenge your creative skills with open projects.
Expand Your Writing Chops
With writing, the whole web is your creative nook. The simplest way is to start a blog, but if you are really serious about getting the community involved and getting your book published, try crowdsourced book writing services like Write On and Wattpad.
Write On is a fresh venture from the biggest name in publishing.
Amazon calls it an experiment. If you have strung together a few chapters of a book or completed one, post it here. It is as easy as clicking a “Create” button. Share your story and request feedback. You can ask for comments on plot, character, setting, voice (tone), proofreading, the overall story, or another topic of your choosing. Stories go up the ranking with “likes”.
Wattpad is the leader of the indie pack.
Wattpad makes stories social. You can post your stories as serials or complete works for free and share it with the 30 million strong community. Anything you post on Wattpad can be published in as many other places as you like. And this community can interact with the writer on any part of the creative process.
Other websites to expand your writing skills :
- Help Me Write – get ideas from your audience on what to write about.
- Coda – an interesting iPhone app that helps you break writer’s block with collaborative writing.
Perfect Your Coding & Programming
There is a thing called “crowdsourced software development“. Even NASA and Harvard have some skin in the game with their NASA Tournament Lab. That’s a great place to try your skills if you want to get into the space program one little toe at a time. Dreams can start small.
TopCoder floats to the top when we talk about open global innovation communities. The site takes a competitive approach – companies post their problems (read it as “challenges”) and the community of coders gets to work. In this bloodless mass hackathon, winners take home a cash prize while others wait for the next big challenge to pounce on.
An aspiring developer can become part of a larger community and also earn bragging rights if their work is recognized. Yes, even those without formal degrees.
Other websites for coding tryouts:
Develop an Aptitude for Public Service
A community, town, state, and a nation is a crowdsourcing effort in the simplest of ways. A career in public service is a way to take that forward. And it doesn’t have to start with a huge leap. The U.S. has its Presidential Innovation Fellows program, a unique government-people 12-month long initiative. The U.K has its Knowledge Hub for facilitating discussion on public issues or the Red Tape Challenge to cut down unnecessary regulation. India has its own MyGov portal for digital engagement with the government on social issues.
These are some examples of how crowdsourcing is fostering open governments and allowing citizens to build an attitude of public service. If you are interested in what’s happening around you, start small — maybe by just voicing a problem in governance.
When you decide that you want to give back to society, platforms like Crowdrise can help create a fundraiser site around your favorite social cause. Small steps like these can be development labs for public service skills that may emerge later.
Other websites for social good:
- Catch A Fire – Contribute your professional skills pro-bono for a social cause.
- OpenIDEO – an open innovation platform for solving social challenges through big ideas and dialog.
Follow The Law (and Lawyers)
Legal expertise is built on information relating to past cases and their judgments. Even aspiring lawyers or associates start their careers waist deep in legal research.
Casetext is a community powered legal site for researching case law. Casetext is not a flat database of open legal documents as it has features for users to add descriptions, tags, annotations and documents. Users can also enhance the case files with to secondary sources. Lawyers are encouraged to share their analytical knowledge.
The site says it wants to be a “a higher-functioning resource strengthened by the collective knowledge of the legal community“. For aspiring legal professionals, the learning bytes can be an invaluable tool to see what the profession is all about. Browse through the communities and join one closest to your passion. With regular contributions, you can also develop your reputation and professional contacts.
Other websites for legal learning:
- Lawfully — an open community for sharing legal information.
- Mootus – a place for legal research and issue based discussions.
Can We Learn with the Crowd?
Crowdsourcing platforms are viable places to build your skills if you are new or unemployed. Access to expert skills deepens your own understanding of it. And why should broadening your knowledge be a solo effort sitting in front of a screen?
Think of any learning endeavor and you can be sure there’s an army trying to do the same. Some crowdsourcing program wants this collective energy.
- Do you want to be an architect? Try Arcbazar.
- Do you want to build a career in intellectual property? Try Article One.
- Do you want to become a curator one day? Try Art Detective.
Crowdsourcing in its more myriad forms has already become a disruptor. Place it at the center of your own skill upgrade and it might disrupt your life too in a positive way. Yes – do remember to put in as much as you take out. Someone in the crowd may be looking to you for some handholding.
Do you think tapping collective wisdom moves you forward? What professional and personal skills you are looking to improve this way?
Image Credit: Tap of crowdsourcing cloud service via Shutterstock