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Sunday, January 13, 2008

To The Defense of Crowdsourcing

I am always interested with how different applications of crowdsourcing are being used today. Crowdsourcing is leading to many innovative and leading edge applications – from sports teams to political parties and we really are only in the infant stages of understanding the power it provides and how it can be leveraged in business.

Crowdsourcing 101 part 2 by Monica Hamburg outlines many of the potential drawbacks with crowdsourcing but doesn't take the time to outline the power and benefits that can be generated by the power of the crowd, but take heed it really isn’t that bad.

In a basic sense crowdsourcing is the concept of drawing ideas from a crowd. This can be as advanced as solving complex scientific problems and predictive markets to as simple as creating a collection of stock photos. (As an aside Getty paid $50 million for iStockPhoto)

Crowdsourcing can be a great way to access new ideas, find solutions to problems or quickly build out that impossible task. Of interest to note is that a grey area is beginning to form with respect to community interactions – comments, posts etc. which are really more social media and consumer generated content than crowdsourcing but as Monica lumped it in I will as well. A case can be made that many of these forms of social media are in fact variations of crowdsourcing around the conversation of brands and brand perceptions online.

First things first, we new never really controlled our brands, we influenced the discussion by spending millions of dollars to out shout what people were saying about us so our message would always be the one that was heard. This has all changed with the Internet, blogging and social communities. Consumers and communities openly discus and contribute to your brand’s image at a level that cannot be matched through traditional marketing methods. We can now guide and participate in the discussion but controlling it is no longer possible. What we all need to learn as marketers is that the discussion is going to happen, and we need to embrace it. Yes people make stupid comments on Youtube and others enjoy adding their comedic flair to Yahoo Answers but you have to understand the culture of the community and, as they did with the dog question, the community will often police itself.

Secondly, you need to understand how you can leverage the concept of crowdsourcing as it can be a source of incredible innovation, insight and knowledge. Wikipedia is probably one of the greatest collections of knowledge of our time, is much more accurate and up to date than professional encyclopedias and is 100% crowdsourced. A great way to see the power of Wikipedia is to wait for the next big newsworthy event to take place and watch how the story evolves in the pages of Wikipedia. It will be faster to update, provide more information, and often give a more even perspective that anything we see in the news.

Next, to strengthen the idea of the knowledge of crowds, think of the last time you purchased a product online. I am willing to bet that the comments and reviews from the greater online community helped you define what the product was you were going to purchase and probably had more of an impact on the purchase decision than anything else did. Again, in a true sense, this isn’t crowdsourcing but it does point to the wisdom and power of crowds to get it right.

Crowdsourcing is new, like many of the medias we deal with on a regular basis, it can be dangerous but it can show incredible returns. It is also not very well understood which can lead to the perception of it being ineffective and nonproductive. Again, do not think this is the answer to your problems, a free resource or a quick way to play with new media. It should be a tool that is used in the correct situation for your business by leveraging the power of the crowd or your community. If you understand the risks you will be much better prepared for success, don’t be afraid and try to understand how it can be used.

Trust me – the crowd is much smarter than us.


Monica Hamburg said...

Hi Simon,

The next part in the series will address the benefits of Crowdsourcing and how to make a crowdsourcing venture work. (I am trying to be objective with each article focusing on specific aspects - "Are You Afraid of the Crowds?" was specifically about the negative. The first part touched on some positives: )

You've have made some great points in your post about what crowdsourcing can offer. I hope you don't mind if I quote you in an article?

james said...

Would Design by Humans or be examples of crowdsourcing?

Simon Rodrigue said...


Both are great examples of business that use the mass to drive design.

Thanks for the comments and the suggested sites.