Was the use of Amazon's 'crowdsourcing' counterproductive to Fossett search?

Wired has an interesting critical look at Amazon's highly publicized "Mechanical Turk" project that enlisted 50,000 volunteers in what ultimately proved a futile attempt to locate the missing plane of adventurer Steve Fossett.

Some now regret the time they spent eyeballing digital images, while others defend the effort as part of a technological learning curve.

At the very end of the piece, after one participant in the project suggests that there was no harm in trying as long as the amateurs didn't get in the way of the professional searchers, we get this most telling assessment:

Yet that is exactly what happened, much to the exasperation of Civil Air Patrol Maj. Cynthia Ryan, who says her e-mail and voicemail boxes were flooded with leads from folks working on the Mechanical Turk. Many times, they mistook search aircraft in the air for Fossett's plane - even though it's unlikely Fossett's plane would have appeared intact.

"The crowdsourcing thing added a level of complexity that we didn't need, because 99.9999 percent of the people who were doing it didn't have the faintest idea what they're looking for," Ryan says.

"In the early days, it sounded like a good idea," Ryan continues. "In hindsight, I wish it hadn't been there, because it didn't produce a darn thing that was productive except for being a giant black hole for energy, time and resources. There may come a day when this technology is capable of doing what it says it can deliver, but boy, that's not now."

Crowds aren't always the fonts of wisdom that they're cracked up to be ... and they've always had the potential to be a bit unruly, even when well intentioned.

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