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Local Governments Need To Embrace The Passion Of Amateurs!

One of my favorite quotes is: “

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

The first edition of Britannica Encyclopedias appeared in Scotland in 1768. In 11 years a group of Internet volunteers has ended the 244 year history of Britannica printed encyclopedias.

Britannica has 100 full-time paid editors and the cost of its printed edition was $1,395. Only 8,000 sets of the 2010 edition, which comes in 32 volumes weighing 129 pounds have been sold, and the remaining 4,000 have been stored in a warehouse until they are bought.

Wikipedia was created 11 years ago and is not organized in any traditional way as the content contained on its web site is all prepared by dedicated passionate volunteers, where it is available for free. Wikipedia doesn’t have a single paid employee responsible for content (writing, editing or any of the sort.). Wikipedia is more than 10X as big as the New York Times, which has 1,200 employees responsible for writing and editing.

Through dedicated volunteers Wikipedia has worldwide produced more than 17 million articles compared to Britannica’s approximate 100,000, Wikipedia has 365 million readers, and is the 7th most popular website in the world. Total visitors to Britannica’s websites last year numbered 450million. Daily traffic to Wikipedia is around 100million hits, which equates to more than 36 BILLION hits a year.

Chris Anderson, Editor of Wired magazine and author of The Long Tail states:

“In the endless debate about the relative merits of amateurs vs. professionals in a world where the two have equal access to the tools of production, I think people miss a key point:

“Amateurs self-select for the job. Professionals are selected. For most jobs, volunteers beat draftees. I’ll take a passionate amateur over a bored professional any day.”

No one imagined that several thousand volunteers interested in writing encyclopedia articles could contribute the amount of free quality work they did for Wikipedia. People are passionate about their communities and their local governments. Wikipedia makes it easy for people to contribute their time and ideas, local governments need to do the same.

Local governments need to embrace the passion of amateurs!


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Rob Carty

Local governments do and have relied on amateurs for decades, if not longer. We just call them “volunteers”. Without them, it would be impossible to build community.

Paul Wolf

Rob, your point is well taken. The point I was trying to make is that most local governments do not make volunteering in a significant way easy through the use of technology. Things like Wiki pages to seek public input into budget decisions or the drafting of local ordinances. Making data publicly available for software geeks to create useful apps etc.

Some local governments are doing the above but not very many.