Is Social Media Crowdsourcing Making Us Lazy?

Social media makes us lazy

You’ve become lazy. You’re no longer smart. You’re a shadow of the clever person you really could be. Don’t feel bad – I am too. We all are. We used to be questioning; now we just ask questions.

Blame social media. Actually, don’t – blame social media and crowdsourcing. Penned by Jeff Howe in a 2006 Wired Magazine article, crowdsourcing does exactly what it says on the tin – allows us to source a crowd for an answer.

Want to know where the best steakhouse in Waco is? Ask Twitter. Need to find a kid-friendly bar for your next day out? Update your Facebook status. Want to find out if G.I. Joe blows? Start a conversation on Quora.

Useful? Yes. Informative? Yes. Necessary? Not always. Encourages laziness? Most definitely.

Whatever happened to good old-fashioned research? Taking the time to satisfy our curiosity by looking up information ourselves? Have we really got to the stage where we’re so dependent on others that we’re collectively wasting our intelligence?

At school, we’re given textbooks to help us learn what we need to know. We can also access libraries, Google (man how I wish I had that available when I was at school!) and numerous other resources. A world of knowledge is at our fingertips.

Yet increasingly we’re asking for others to use their fingertips instead. Who does this benefit?

Do we really learn more by asking someone else to find out something for us? Does our memory retain facts and information if it’s fed to us, or if we hold the spoon ourselves?

There’s no denying that crowdsourcing can offer a valuable and beneficial option for gathering information or opinions on any given topic. Yet just because something is there doesn’t mean it needs to always be used.

Instead of crowdsourcing your next question, try this:

  • Google it. There’s a reason why Google is the number one search engine – people use it to search for things. Try it – it’s fun.
  • Use an online encyclopedia. The website gathers information from 49 encyclopedias and 73 dictionaries and thesauruses. There’s not a lot that won’t be there.
  • Try a relevant resource. If it’s a sports question, try a sports trivia site. If it’s an entertainment question, try an entertainment site. And so on…

Don’t get me wrong – I crowdsource just like anyone else does. But it’s usually for opinion as opposed to information, or for information that I’ve searched for and just can’t find anywhere (yes, even Google isn’t all-powerful).

Human beings are pretty clever by nature. Can we work on keeping it that way?

image: wstera2

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  1. says

    Google can be great Danny, at it is great at many times. However sometimes not all answers can be “googled” because of people who are better in SEO. Great contents get lost from competitive key terms.

    When I bought my iphone 4 (love it!!!! dammit) I googled for applications to download. Google came up with results old which was 6 months old (its old for me)

    So I asked twitter to recommend me 5 of their favorite apps. The results was great! lots of the apps was better than google search results.

    I still use google of course. Just depending on the questions. Some are better to ask on twitter compared to googling :)

    • says

      Oh, for sure, Aaron – as both you and the post mentions, sometimes we just can’t find the right information, so crowdsourcing is perfect.

      But as your own approach shows, there’s always the option of doing your own research first, and I think often we lose sight of that option for a quick fix.

      Cheers! :)

    • says


      you are speaking apples and oranges- you list a problem of people ASKING for opinions on fairly specific items, but offer a solution for research that won’t provide it?

      Mind you, people ARE lazy and ask for answers to easily researchable questions, but isn’t that the next phase?

      Eventually, we will get to a system where computers will allow us to just ask a question and get the answer ala Star Trek?

      People are just using the tools available to them- is it laziness for the man to use a lawnmower instead of shears to cut his grass?

      you clarify in comments that this more about the laziness to begin with and folks settling for the first answer… then you qualify it with offering a service and providing the best responses- clearly anyone doing that is going to get called out fairly fast by the crowd and the client.

      Still don’t see a huge problem

      • says

        Hi Todd,

        Using a lawnmower won’t get you fired for potentially opening up a lawsuit based on what you recommend. But to your point, there’s a difference between smart use of tools and laziness.

        The shears would get the job done just as well as a lawnmower (often better, because of angles you can reach with shears), it just takes longer.

        The difference is the opinion versus simple questions part (which the post makes clear). Opinion (especially from trusted resources) is great, and can really help make a decision easier.

        An answer to a question with a simple answer, though, that doesn’t need a big opinion on? Sorry, that’s laziness to me (and Bob LeDrew makes a great example in the comments below).

        • says

          The other sideline to this is the digital divide that exists.
          I work somewhere where LAZY people CALL all day asking for information that is easily looked up. The simple fact becomes, if the tool or opp exists, most folks ARE that lazy.

  2. says

    I have a real problem with this article. There, I’ve said it and I haven’t crowdsourced my opinion! I don’t need to because it is mine.

    Why not ask other people? I don’t get the problem. If I want the best restaurant in Waco (which is unlikely as I live in London) I am going to ask the Waco-ese! Why would I not? Even if I don’t use Twitter or whatever, I am likely to get my answers from reviews (from a crowd) via a search engine.

    In our business, we have a saying, ‘Google is like having a conversation with Rainman’. Our standard example is to look up PR companies from Huddersfield (it is in England btw). You’ll get 1.2m responses. Which means, if that number is correct, that there could be 10 PR companies for every person who lives there. Somewhat unlikely I hope you’ll agree…or it means something is not quite right.

    As for being lazy? Why should I stress over information? Is crowdsourcing not research? I believe it is and it is very valid. Ask a market research company where they get their data…I think you’ll find that the answer is ‘people’ and when you have a bunch of people, you get a crowd. Hmmmm.

    Actually, having just re-read the article. I’m not really sure I get the point. I don’t need a crowd to tell me that and sure as hell Google won’t.

    • says

      Here’s perhaps a better example of what I think Danny’s getting at. I noticed a question recently on Quora that was: “Are there any corporations promoting the use of social media and networking between employees?” I noticed another on LinkedIn Answers that went: “How to Podcast? Is there any free software available? If I have a host of media files with me,Can I create podcast using those software and upload?” As far as I’m concerned, these types of questions are junk. I googled “social media” “case study” “internal communications” and came up with on-target results. I did the same thing with the podcasting question. If services like Quora or LiA are going to be valuable, it’s because they ask GOOD questions and get GOOD answers. I’m getting tired of people using crowdsourcing when they can’t get out of their own way.

      • says

        How much is the laziness due to parents answering their children vs encouraging their kids to seek out an answer for themselves?

        Is Quora or Fluther or LinkedIn Answers or Facebook Answers etc any different than a child asking a parent a question from the confines of the bedroom without thinking the public library is down the street?

        • says

          Depends on the child, Ari, no? Can he or she go to the library on their own? Can they use the web to find information? If not, then they’re still young and need guidance.

  3. says

    Hi Chris,

    That’s understandable, given your business.

    The post isn’t a “stab” at crowdsourcing per se; more the fact that it’s making a lot of people lazy. Those answers from others could quite as easily have been found by yourself, but because others have done the work, cool, let’s go with that.

    Too many people take the first answers and go with that as gospel. And then wonder why the advice they gave often leads to problems further down the line. That’s where the problem with crowdsourcing can come in. Mind you, if folks are happy using the first answer they find without confirmation of the facts first, that’s their look-out.

    Used to work in Huddersfield many years ago – was there when the McAlpine stadium went up. Decent rugby league team too, at one point.

    And I didn’t need Google for that information, either… 😉

    • says

      Fair points Danny. I do like to provoke though, it is far more fun :)

      You are right about the ‘first answer’ issue…with Google, that however can also come down to who pays the most in SEO fees. I guess whether we are lazy or not, and I am, although not in a lax way if that makes any sense..meaning I work like buggery and still am at 8:40 on a Sunday, we still need to apply a sense of reason and logic to what we are told. Although humanity isn’t always terribly good at that :)

      Crowdsourcing works for me my giving me pointers and may be thoughts for consideration…but I always make my own mind up in the end.


  4. says

    9 out of 10 times I try crowd sourcing its fails me. Partially because I get ignored on the twitter. Partially because if I am asking a question I can’t get the answer for myself it’s usually either rocket science worthy, something supa-secret that could take down whole industries if it becomes public, or there just is no answer!

    I have issues with crowd sourcing anyway. Just look at your Sunday Name request. Even if there is lots of quality you have too much quantity!

    • says

      That’s another side to it, Howie – like you say, most information is available, and if it’s not, there’s usually a pretty good reason it’s not public.

      And, as you mention, you can sometimes get too much of a good thing – flip knows how I’m going to choose a name for the new series! :)

      PS – why are you here a day early? Completely thrown my schedule off, now.

  5. says

    I love this post. In fact, I’m jealous I didn’t write it myself.

    Too often I see people inserting other people’s opinions for their own – from politics to technology. The idea of research, due diligence and critical thinking seems to be waning.

    Is there a place for social crowdsourcing? Sure. But it has to be used in the right way. I prefer to have my own opinion based on personal experience or learning before I get the wisdom of crowds.

    I want to test my own ability and opinions against those of others. This is the way you sharpen your own mind and abilities.

    • says

      Hi AJ,

      First, absolutely LOVE the name of your blog and the reasoning behind it – perfect way to look at search engines! :)

      I think you hit the nail on the head with the “due diligence” and “critical thinking” statement.

      Sure, we don’t need to do due diligence on whether McDonald’s is better than Burger King for fries. But an overview of a charity’s financial records before donating, as opposed to Charity X is cool because it supports Movement Y would be something to dig more into.

      And, as Bob mentions above, often the questions and answers are crud and don’t move us any further forward.

      Cheers for sharing your thoughts, mate.

      • says

        Thanks for the kind words Danny.

        I’d agree with Bob that many of the questions and answers are often not productive. At times you’re really not sure if the person(s) answering are truly knowledgeable in that area.

        I’d rather be wrong with my own opinion and analysis rather than with someone else’s. Thanks again and all the best in 2011.

  6. Mike McGrail says

    I use a mixture of own research vs. seeking opinion from Twitter etc. It works very well for me and I find I get a real cross section of answers from a wide range of people. If somebody was to rely purely on crowdsourced answers then there are obvious issues with credibility of info etc.

  7. says

    Hi Danny,

    Although i disagree, I still love the article though. It gets me and a whole lot of others thinking.

    Yeah, it could be spoon feeding, for some. However, I think it also depends on people’s attitudes. I don’t think people’s laziness can be blamed at social media and crowdsourcing. We only have ourselves to blame. We are the ones living our lives, so we are to blame if we allow ourselves to become lazy. This is just an opinion though.

    But as a whole, I love this post and it’s truly worth anyone’s time!

  8. says

    Not making us lazy … less mobile maybe?
    Crowdsourcing combined with web research opens up a whole new world … a library with opinions in your own home.

    • says

      You use the key term there, Sonia – “web research”. It’s the difference between letting someone (possibly) give you the wrong answer versus clarification yourself. And that’s the key difference.

  9. says

    There is no question that crowdsourcing is making us lazy. Look at Twitter for example. While I love the platform there are many folks who just fish for answers from their network every day that can be easily answered by hitting up a search engine or checking an email.

    Answer services like FB Answers, LinkedIn or Quora further exacerbate that. Instead of making decisions on merit of knowledge that we process, we are relying on the knowledge of the crowd – preempting self-doubt and learning curve over the insight of experts who may or may not be disclosing their affiliation to a given answer or service.

    • says

      Good points, Jeff, and I think that’s the biggest question around crowdsourcing – how can you decide what’s right for your needs, without digging in and finding out for yourself?

    • says

      That’s an important thing to remember, Jeff – we know there are a ton of folks that don’t disclose personal or professional relationships.

      Who’s to say that great piece of advice I thought I’d got wasn’t a paid ad, or a sponsored recommendation? It’s why we should be taking responsibility for the information and how we use it.

      • says

        Exactly Danny. It sucks that we are in that kind of world. I often will ask for suggestions, but also do my own research because at the end of the day, a tool or service that is just right for you might suck for me and so forth.

  10. says

    Are you kidding! I’m efficient not lazy! I try to find the best answer as fast as possible so that I can move on and make decisions! You just have to remember that you’re getting opinions from people and you also have to support answers with facts. Crowdsourcing is part of the research process for me.

    • says

      Hi Genevieve,

      So what would you see as more efficient? Crowdsourcing to get an answer you need to get facts to supports answers to, or you doing your own research from the start to get the answer you need?

      • says

        Well it really depends on the question of course. But asking others can reduce the amount of time you do research because they often point out where to find the info since those same people might have done the research before you or tried a certain product and might add views that simple facts might not cover. Don’t you find that you get lost sometimes with Google because there’s so much information?

        • says

          I think it depends on how you tailor the search, Genevieve (and Bob touches on it much more effectively in his response above).

          I guess the way I look at it is this – if you’re an agency or consultant, and you’re taking the words of others without making checks yourself, then you’re not providing the service you’re charging for.

          Creative laziness can be good; but laziness on its own is just an excuse for not being able to do the job.

          • says


            In your article you don’t specify the purpose of your research. If you’re doing research for a client obviously it can’t be a fluffy answer coming from random people and your data has to be supported. I also don’t necessarily take what I find on the web as facts either. Most articles are written with bias opinions and interpretations. Same goes for news reports on TV and newspapers. Have you ever watched Fox News during the Obama elections? I think you can combine your findings from croudsourcing and actual facts to construct proper answers. To me, research shouldn’t come from one single source. Then, there’s asking people for what they think about a certain movie for my own purpose, if that’s lazy then I’m guilty of it!

            • says

              Take it away from the client angle – would you accept crowdsourced answers on their own merit so readily?

              You answered that, and that’s the big difference – you know the importance of extra clarification, so you check other sources. Many don’t, because it would (possibly) take too long.

              The laziness wins. For some, anyhoo. 😉

  11. says

    Crowdsourcing is taking some of the fun out of life. Instead of taking a risk on restaurant or a movie, we check for reviews and ratings. Who is to say that these anonymous people have any clue what they are talking about.

    • says

      Didn’t even think of the fun angle :)

      But you make a good point on the knowledge base – there’s a lot of fluff along with the facts. Another reason why taking on the extra research as opposed to the first answer is important.

  12. says

    Love this post, Danny. I wrote something similar just before Christmas (though not as eloquent!) about how social media, or rather our use of it, is making us lazy, depressed and even anti-social. I also asked where the next Einstein, Newton or Hawking would come from if we came overly-dependent on collective intelligence.

    Didn’t surprise me that the post didn’t gain that much traction as I did fear it was a little too challenging/controversial for many. But if you fancy a read, it’s here:

    Great to see similar thoughts from someone such as yourself. Cheers!

    • says

      You know, that’s a great point, Paul. If you think back to the Industrial Age, and then the pre- and post-nuclear age, have we really done anything massively significant, with the exception of space travel?

      It does make you wonder about how technology is really helping us.

      Cheers for the link, will check it out.

  13. says

    Well, as a person who earned a Masters in Library Science, I could wax on and on about this topic. I personally love research, and it makes me sad that so many people pass on the pleasure of finding things out for themselves.

    What is particularly disturbing is not just the laziness, but the lack of interest in being anything other than lazy. Now, we can’t necessarily put all of the blame on people who depend on others for information. My blog strives to provide answers to questions. So does yours. So do most. Whether those questions have been asked or not.

    However, getting those answers is seldom where people stop leaning. It becomes, “OK, well, I did what you said in that post, so now what?”

    I guess this would be the case whether Social Media existed or not. When I was pursuing my degree in Library Science, we heard a lot of horror stories about people coming in saying, “I want the book with the red cover.” Oh, ok. I know just what you mean. Uh…

    Great post Danny!

    • says

      Hi Margie,

      You know, that’s a great point and interesting observation. So let’s say we use a blog (or a crowdsourced answer) as the starting point – not using that information to take an idea in a whole new direction is where the real laziness comes in?

  14. says

    Hi Danny, this is not really a disagree/agree article as you stated you are pointing out alternatives and your suggestions are very useful and thought provoking.

    I think the power of crowd sourcing depends a lot on the crowd. For instance when you asked for help naming your Sunday Q&A feature you had the perfect audience to help with some very creative suggestions. Does that make you lazy? Yes, but it also makes you very smart because leveraging your readers assets and involving them in a piece of your blog is a great way to build on your already thriving community.

    There is a higher level of crowd sourcing that does not often get utilized. I had a great chat with the CEO of Spigit last year and learned a bit about how their product works. It is fascinating to hear the stories where the janitor comes up with the great new idea for a company. There is a level of crowd sourcing that things like Quora, Twitter and Blogs do not reach. It is a fascinating evolution of idea generation.

    Thanks for the though provocation :)


    • says

      See, now THAT’s the kind of creative crowdsourcing that I love, Joe.

      One of the things we always do with clients is ask them who their most important employee is. More often than not, they’ll come back with the CEO or VP of something.

      We then ask them, “Okay, now – what would happen if the guy that keeps your data systems clean suddenly disappeared? Or the person responsible for training new employees wasn’t there. Or, (and it fits in with your example), the mailman didn’t deliver your mail?”

      It usually opens their eyes a little bit to how a company is run, from the (true) ground up. Everyone has a part to play – it’s how you meld these parts that makes the magic.

      Cheers, sir! :)

  15. says

    Hi Danny
    Quote I heard recently was…
    “We know less and less about more and more.”

    Looks as though we are losing any depth to our knowledge, we learn the buzz words and sound knowledgeable but it’s all a sham.

    Everyone wants to learn the tricks of the trade… nobody wants to learn the trade.

    What’s to become of us Danny? LOL

    • says

      When I passed my English degree in University, my grandad said, “Congratulations. But you know that having a degree just means you’re more qualified to talk about bugger all than the next person – doesn’t mean you’re smarter.”

      Kinda rings true with your less and more example. What’s to become of us indeed… 😉

  16. says

    Crowdsourcing is most effective when you’ve built a community of people whose opinion you trust. I source many things to my community as I know the majority of their tastes.

    I will Google most research that either has no opinion or contrasting opinion. I like the hard facts in order to make an informed decision for myself.

    I have crowdsourced business names, domain choices, movies, restaurants, car rentals, hotels, books to read, logos, designs, and many other things to my social community.
    I always get great responses, perhaps that’s because i’ve built and invested in a great community in which to source from.

    • says

      For sure, Chris, if you have a solid community that you trust and whose opinions you respect, it makes sense that you throw the question out to them.

      But often that’s not the case on Twitter or, more recently, the likes of Quora. Instead, it’s simply a matter of getting a ton of answers back (many from folks you may never have spoken with up until that point), and then using that information to make your decision.

      To me, that’s the type of crowdsourcing that seems to bypass common sense. 😉

  17. says

    We are slowly becoming a generation of um, what was I saying? Oh yeah, forgot. Hang on, I know we look for something and take the first answer which is why search has become such big business. We like short pieces of information and lose interest, um, what was I saying?

  18. says

    I agree. For me, the laziness factor is the point here.

    When I have a question, I usually do my own research first. If Google doesn’t present an answer quickly, it will certainly help me frame my question more precisely, more intelligently. And that’s important to me. When I go out looking for a crowd-sourced answer or opinion, I want to look like I’ve at least done some of my homework. In my experience, people appreciate that you’ve at least checked out the low-hanging fruit first (i.e., the first few screens of Google search results).

    • says

      Now that’s a great approach, and similar to Bob’s point earlier in the comments that bad search terms will result in bad search results.

      Cheers, Jay.

  19. says

    Obviously a topic for vibrant discussion! I think the volume and tone of responses is a reflection of your readers’ instinctive reaction to the more sinister effects of not just crowdsourcing, but the social web and the web as a whole. It’s the judgment of Thamus all over again – Thamus, the mythical Egyptian king who, when presented with the invention of writing, worried that those who relied on it would cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful. This myth has been recounted by social critics from Marshall McLuhan to Neil Postman, and most recently, Nicholas Carr, whose book ‘The Shallows’ makes a very convincing argument that we are outsourcing our memory to the internet, and losing our ability to research and analyze data by ourselves. Resonates with the ‘we know less and less about more and more’ comment. Good post Danny.

    • says

      Interesting thoughts, Will. So would you say there’s an inherent danger with any research of the crowd, where you could have competitors of you or your clients trying to deliberately feed false information?

      • says

        Absolutely not, Danny. I just launched a mobile brand (WIND Mobile) entirely based on crowdsourcing ideas from anyone who had a mobile account with the Big Three incumbents. We had a year-long conversation with mobile users, and the data from that conversation provided us with (almost) all the raw material we needed to design both the products and the experiences that customers would have when interacting with us at any point in their journey with WIND.

        Sure, we had competitors trolling our open forum, but the beauty was that by the time they jumped into the convo, we already had a strong community of support which actually turned out to be self-policing. They spotted the trolls right away and openly shamed them. Of course the trolls still turned up because they were getting paid to. But it was a it had minimal impact on our launch.

        It was a textbook case of collaborative marketing, or co-creation. Amazing learning.

        • says

          You were behind Wind? Would love to have a chat with you about that, and the obstacles faced by a little guy trying to break monopolies, if you’re free sometime?

  20. says


    I think the laziness that you suggest as being caused by crowd sourcing is actually a symptom of a larger problem. I think there is a great pandemic of laziness rife throughout society and we may very well find ourselves 100 years down the line with a very efficient (with technological means), intelligent work force yet totally incapable of completing the simplest of tasks without deferring to someone else’s opinion. But that is another story.

    I think to crowd source matters of current opinion (ie restaurants, entertainment, perhaps traffic conditions) is perfectly fine, but the real problem arises when people begin adding a layer of credibility to opinions because they are published with a Twitter/Quora username or high Google ranking.

    What is popular is not always true and what is true is not always popular. Just because it was mentioned on Oprah doesn’t mean it’s gospel fact.

    In matters of importance (research oriented), we can’t allow ourselves to be an ignorant mob and must hold fast to seek out truth and fact above opinion.

    Thanks for bringing this issue to light. Always enjoy reading your posts.

    • says

      “What is popular is not always true and what is true is not always popular. Just because it was mentioned on Oprah doesn’t mean it’s gospel fact.”

      That statement sums it up perfectly, Jamey. I’ve seen bloggers with a large audience have everything they say taken as gospel, when clearly the advice (to anyone with business acumen) isn’t very good at all.

      But because the numbers are there…

  21. says

    Social Media is fun and exciting that’s why everyone is into it right now. All information goes there, business alike. But it doesn’t mean it can get lazy, its just an easy way of communication and other business venture. We humans try to build or experiment things that can easy the life that were living. It should be 50/50..cause life can be demanding at times.

  22. Tom Cornish says

    Let’s not forget the serious business potential that comes from Crowdsourcing. Crowds can be composed of marketing professionals (for instance). Rather than asking where the best steak house in Waco is, you could ask if anyone can meet your marketing brief, design your website, or create a new advertising strategy.

    What do you think?

    • says

      Hi Tom,

      Agreed, crowdsourcing does have its uses for sure (and the post states that itself). Professional crowdsourcing is a great example of this.

      I’m just against the bone-assed lazy approach that many take, when just a little brain power and work would get the result themselves. :)

      • Tom Cornish says

        Hi Danny,

        Yeah I take your point – ‘Crowdsourcing’ covers a lot of activity, some of it less than productive!

        Have you checked out the site to see how we operate? It sounds like it might be something you’re interested in.



  23. says

    For me, crowdsourcing provides directional information at best. It’s a useful starting point, but nearly always requires additional interpretation or refinement that cannot be achieved by posting a question or searching a term.

    Take your example of the best steakhouse in Waco. Unless you include your definition of “best” (Is it taste? Value? Popularity? Funkiness? Organic-ness?), or you know/trust/share the tastes of the respondents, how reliable would the crowdsourced answer be? What if the plurality opinion came back as Outback Steakhouse, but you don’t like chains.

    Social media types tend to fetishize the “wisdom of crowds” without really questioning how useful it is, or how much additional work will be required to make it so.

    In addition to enabling end user laziness, crowdsourcing has encouraged manufacturers to be lazy and deceptive. I know from personal experience that companies will match a feature their engineers had already designed into an upcoming release with a comment or suggestion found in an online community, then cite it as a crowdsourced innovation.

    Finally, hasn’t crowdsourcing become a hipster marketing hook akin to “artisanal.” Zeitgeisty and “on trend,” but not necessarily better — or even as good.

    • says

      “Finally, hasn’t crowdsourcing become a hipster marketing hook akin to “artisanal.” Zeitgeisty and “on trend,” but not necessarily better — or even as good.”

      Like anything, it all boils down to being as good and useful as the source.

      Cheers, Jay.