5 free ways to use crowdsourcing for investigations
Careful use of online sites can track down hard-to-find information and leads
By Brandon Gregg , CPP
June 27, 2011 — CSO —
We have all heard the phrase, "When all else fails, try, try again." But in an investigation, when your own skills aren't enough, your professional network can't support you, and your leads go cold, what is next? You need to try again, yes, but try a new approach. One new approach is to turn to the 'wisdom of crowds' for answers.
Following are five free ways to crowdsource useful information needed to close your investigation. With 2 billion users online and more viewers on Facebook then all evening news shows combined, the Internet can serve as your own eyes and ears to find offbeat information. It's a tactic that can't be skipped.
In Tools to identify anonymous users online and 5 free ways to track online leaks of information we used the vast database of the Internet to search for unknown and anonymous data, but with crowdsourcing the answers we need come to us. Instead of searching for known data online, learn to ask the world for help. And then know how to interpret or verify the information you receive.
[Read all of Gregg's Investigator's Toolkit columns on CSOonline.com.]
With all these tools, you must remember that anything you post essentially becomes public information. Don't post details that could compromise your investigation. (More on this cautionary note at the end of this column.)
1. Yahoo Answers. One of the oldest (and often most humorous) sites for crowdsourcing information is Yahoo Answers. Although the site is simplistic in setup and presentation, publishing a question and getting a serious answer is quite possible. Yahoo still draws a big crowd. From basic questions like "What year was the first Cromemco Dazzler computer was produced", to more advance questions regarding cybercrime, Yahoo Answers can quickly provide you that data that no search engine will ever crawl and collect.
Very important: Make sure to verify your findings on Yahoo Answers. Due to the site's size and often unmonitored setup, you can certainly receive misinformation.
2. Quora. A growing startup company recently featured in Forbes has brought back a level of crowdsourcing integrity that Yahoo Answers sometimes lacks. The site, Quora.com, is often described as a reverse-Wikipedia, where users can post and answer some of the most interesting and outlandish questions on the Internet.
Even more impressive is the growing list of insiders who post personal and in depth answers to your questions. It's not uncommon to see Craig Newman (founder of Craigslist) reply to a question, or Andrew 'Boz' Bosworth (a founding engineer with Facebook) provide a story only someone with firsthand knowledge can re-create. Questions fall between the opinion-based "What is the best sushi in San Francisco" to the most multifaceted, insider-only questions about current events, national security, cybercrime and much more.