I’m a big believer in what crowds can do. It’s mostly come from watching and participating in the blogging phenomenon, seeing this nascent movement grow up into something that, in many ways, has a real effect on our culture. Certainly a lot of the 2006 election was about the bloggers, mostly on the Left.
So, as a “vast left wing conspiracy,” in other words, as a way to influence politics from a decided point of view, they’ve been an effective tool and medium. They’ve allowed a more left-of-center viewpoint to reach millions of people, and have basically created for the Left what talk radio created for the Right. A way to message, and to influence. (Interestingly, the Right has not had all that much success with blogs.)
Certainly, there are downsides. The NewAssignment project made some of the difficulties obvious. Without structure and focus, it’s hard to reign the crowds in. The kind of crowdsourcing on Daily Kos works much better than the NewAssigment kind, and I think a lot of that has to do not only with the singular focus of the site (get Democrats elected), but also with the more affective, emotional factors that tie together the community. It seems a lot easier to stir passions about politics than it does about journalism. Not to say journalists, pro and amateur alike, aren’t enthusiastic about their profession, but politics seems much more “raw.”
That said, while some of the goals of the NewAssignment experiment were not met, it still had an excellent outcome. I like the hybrid approach, and, especially when it comes to writing, I don’t see having some editorial control over the final product is a bad thing. Especially if they are willing to publish the pre- and post-edited words (which is what they did in at least one case). I think one of the keys to this kind of project is that openness and transparency has to be there. The reason (or, one reason) Wikipedia works is because everything is out in the open.