Crowdsourcing it’s an expression we are hearing more and more.  Like a lot of other ideas though, is it really so new?  Or is it that new media provides a more efficient way of making it work.  Jeff Howe, first used the phrase in June 2006 in an article “The rise of crowdsourcing” featured in Wired Magazine.  A combination of two familiar words crowd and outsourcing, it is in essence a published ‘open’ request for collaborative problem solving or idea sharing.

The idea is not new.  An organisation I do pro-bono work for annually ask members of the public to nominate good examples of design and build within the city.  This request is published through both traditional and new media channels.  There is no doubt that it is a lot easier to instantly submit a suggestion on-line than it is to make a note of the address in the paper and follow it up.  The request by the Government earlier this year asking members of the public to comment on existing policy is another example.

Howe describes Crowdsourcing as something that is outsourced to an ‘undefined’ public, in reality it seems that it builds on the open source idea and that there is a mixture of requests some to defined and others to undefined audiences.  For example the employee survey that asks for suggestion on ways the company can save money.  Or forums, like linkedin and melcrum communicators, that allow members to pose a question for other members to answer could be considered as examples of crowdsourcing solutions. So is it really a strategic tool that promotes collaboration or a cheeky way of getting someone else to do the work?

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12 Responses to Crowdsourcing

  1. Cohesus says:

    Its definitely a powerful tool. you attract the people who are interested in the area and get them to make it better, win win. I wouldn’t consider it cheeky as the consumer benefits from better products/services at potentially lower costs and we get exactly what we want. I think its great and have made suggestions/improvments to services I use and reaped the benefits.

  2. Anne Dyke says:

    I agree it’s an incredibly powerful tool and I don’t have a problem with being cheeky from time to time! I also think it’s open to abuse. The Government were criticised earlier in the year for not responding to policy suggestions. Some employers could be accused of the same lack of response. I think as you rightly say the win/win situation is what we should all be aiming for. An open request and open response should be followed up with the “what’s going to happen as a result” Mock consultations or survey for measurement’s sake without following through are likely to dis-engage people and put them off from taking part again.

  3. The Flying Scotsman says:

    Crowdsourcing is a fantastic method to get a variety of tasks done and to generate ideas. It has been shown that idea generation in groups is greater than if an individual was generating ideas so as long as there is an open forum for discussion and some guidance there can be some major benefits. Provided, of course, that the company hosting the forum or crowdsourcing can pick out ideas that can truly be applied in practice.

    Crowdsourcing has been used to complete monotonous tasks such as data entry and for finding information that might not easily be found on through traditional means. This use of crowdsourcing has traditionally been frowned upon because it can lead to downward pressure on wages. This should be more relevant in the current climate with the high numbers of unemployed people trying to earn a living meaning that companies can pay less in wages. Free market economics in action! This sort of practice has lead to comparisons to sweatshops. However, in my opinion as an accountant and believer in the free market I feel as though it’s all fair play. Feel free to criticise my outwardly harsh and unfeeling views.

    • Anne Dyke says:

      All views are gratefully accepted including those of Scottish accountants! In considering the ethics of online outsourcing I would challenge the comparison with sweatshops. I think one important element is that participants take part of their own free will, they choose to share the idea, provide their opinion. We could ask what’s in it for them and it may be reward or recognition for their idea or it may be altruistic – they have the knowledge someone else has a problem and they choose to give their insight into how it might be solved. In a lot of ways it comes back to human nature we like to share tips and congregate around areas of interest. Thanks for the comment.

  4. black flatfoot says:

    There are many pros and cons in crowdsourcing. In many cases it can be useful for idea generation, gaining a broad spectrum of opinion, providing a conduit for mass participation, perhaps even cheap labour-all good things no doubt. But is it not a source of mediocrity, a hub for plagiarism, a mechanism for intellectual property conflict? In practice hidden costs for exploitation, idea screening, potential lawsuits, and accountability and responsibility may be difficult to ascertain and enforce. This suggests to me that crowdsourcing does not (yet) fit in with the business model of most risk averse organisations. Entrepreneurs will hopefully be able to address and manage crowdsourcing to their advantage-too much information is not always a good thing. I dont even have time to read my emails these days ! What say you bloggers ?

    • Claire Farfield says:

      Your comment about intellectual property is an interesting one I think. I guess it suggests that ‘more risk averse’ companies would avoid certain subjects or crowdsourcing all together – are they missing out? I wonder what the balance may be between improving products and services because of information gained in crowd sourcing – and therefore ££ made, and the loss in ££ due to lawsuits, reputation etc as result of it? I do agree with the posts that crowd sourcing is a good thing, 10 million heads are better than the 3 people in the ‘never-used-the-product-but-in-charge-of-making-it better department’. However, in response to one of the questions asked in the original post – I do not think it promotes collaboration, rather I think it is a tool to get solutions, opinions, customer feedback for free – with no guarantee to the source of anything.

  5. Melanie says:

    Crowd sourcing is not new at all – its how the first Oxford English Dictionary was put together; the public was asked to send in definitions and examples of their language. New media definitely makes it more efficient and more versatile – the potential of the resource is astounding.

  6. PortisheadPR says:

    Where does this leave protecting and appreciating skill and talent leading to the ability to sell a unique product? Will writers, artists, photographers, musicians, and even garden designers, be resigned just to a space somewhere in the new media sphere?

    • black flatfoot says:

      Real skill and talent will always flourish. The cream of the crop will create their own space, and “new media” may help them do so.

  7. I personally love the idea of crowdsourcing and have read case studies of it working well. I’ve just never met anyone that’s done it! It doesn’t seem to be a particularly popular strategy. I wonder why?

  8. cpurnell says:

    I must say Anne, I am a definitely an advocate for collaborative working, both internally, between departments, and externally, between organisations. Although I have had mixed results from these efforts I must say, when they have worked, the results have been fabulous. I would even go so far as to say that the results have been better than any one organisation or department may have been able to achieve on their own.
    However, I also understand that in the commercial sector this concept may be a little more difficult to apply. When profit is the number one motive, why would someone want to collaborate with another if there is a danger they may possibly have to share the generous rewards their innovation brings or even lose them entirely?
    But this should not be as big an issue in the public and voluntary sectors, where I think the potential for collaborative working is perhaps greatest. I wonder if, in these austere times, collaboration may give organisations a unique opportunity to make sure resources have the greatest impact for the biggest number. If this collaboration happens online in the form of crowdsourcing then that’s great. Yes, you are right, it is very user friendly and convenient but it is also time effective and cost effective. It also offers opportunities to engage with disenfranchised or hard to reach groups, whose voices may otherwise remain unheard.

  9. Anne says:

    Dear All
    Thank you for a really broad range of insights. Seems like crowdsourcing presents both threats and opportunities, particularly for small businesses. Possibly more advantageous to public and not for profit sectors that do not have the same intellectual property, or ethical issues around what they should pay for as the private sector. Overall I do believe it is a tool that can be used strategically for engagement and collaboration. I am aware of universities that make good use of it for medical, scientific and technology problems. That said I am sure there are other forums where the wheat needs to be separated from the chaff. The subject also lends itself to a possible dissertation area for further research around pros/cons/ethics of crowdsourcing and implications for corporate communications. Now do I want to do that more than my original idea…

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