Unsourcing: Free Work By Another Name

Big companies like saving money. So far, so obvious. But the growth of social media has allowed them to find a new way to provide services they used to provide before, at a fraction of the cost and quicker and better than in the past.

Basically, instead of setting up costly call centres armed with legions of people able to answer people’s questions, they simply direct people to other users, who will fight with each other to answer the questions themselves. This has become particularly prevalent in the tech and electronic sectors, where internet-linked geeks quite like to be first to help others with the relevant information.

And as every good trend deserves a word, The Economist has now given it one – welcome to the world of Unsourcing.

I must say that I find this word bizarre. Crowdsourcing, the use of large groups of people to pull together information, feels like an action to achieve a goal. Outsourcing, getting your call centre needs fulfilled by a third party, makes sense as it implies organising a service outside your organisation.

Unsourcing suggests that you stop doing something. This is of course true – you stop employing lots of people, but unemploying is already in the lexicon and is hardly the kind of word you would want to associate with a modern new way of behaving. But you don’t really un- the sourcing in this case, if I can get away with saying that, you merely redirect the source. In addition, unsourced is a perfectly legitimate word for information which is unverified. So it seems a strangely inappropriate word.

Even though it is back in the news now, the Word Spy website says it was first used in 2001 and was recognised as a trend in the IT industry back then. It says a lot for unsourcing’s sedately growth that it is only now that it seems to be back in public recognition and in with a chance as being recognised as a commonly used word.

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