There’s a lot of talk these days about crowdsourcing. It’s a buzz word that’s thrown around a lot, but many people have much different definitions of the practice. To help you learn more about crowsourcing and if it may be of benefit to you or your company, we sat down with David Bratvold of Daily Crowdsource to explain the pros and cons.
Q: Crowdsourcing is frequently defined in different ways. For the purposes of our discussion today, how would you define the term crowdsourcing?A: Crowdsourcing is simply getting a crowd of people to help you with a task that’s typically performed by one person or one team (i.e. get a lot of designers to help you create a website design or a lot of translators to translate your blog posts).
Q: Crowdsourcing has been used throughout history, before the internet and before the term was created. How has crowdsourcing been used successfully in the past?
A: Napoleon did a lot of crowdsourcing. In the 18th century he wanted to solve the problem of feeding his army after they left the safety of the French farms. He offered a prize of 12,000 francs for the most innovative approach to solving the hunger problems experienced by his troops. Nicolas Appert submitted the winning solution of canning the food in wax-sealed jars to preserve the food.
Q: When should someone consider using crowdsourcing?A: Crowdsourcing is best used to solve existing challenges. It simply solves the same problems in a more effective way. If you need to implement something faster, get more creativity, or get more engagement, you can probably add crowdsourcing to the process to improve it. For example, if you’re rolling out a product, rather than simply unleash it on your community with a big bang, get your crowd involved during the development. Your community will become more engaged, you’ll have a better handle of what they want (in your product), and they’ll be more likely to purchase since they feel invested in it.
Also, repetitive actions are great for crowdsourcing. Looking for 100 email addresses? Rather than look for them yourself, or pay an employee to scour the internet, hire 100 people to each spend three minutes looking for one address each. You’ll get all your results in a matter of minutes, rather than hours – at a cost much cheaper than you’d expect.
Q: As a company or other entity, what are the benefits of using crowdsourcing?A: The greatest benefit from crowdsourcing is the engagement you’ll receive from your crowd. Getting help from your crowd to produce the content for your site makes it easier to roll out. Secondly, the speed at which things can happen when crowds of people can get involved is astonishing. Imagine translating a blog post. With the traditional approach, you send your post to a translator then wait 2-4 weeks for it to be returned. With crowdsourcing, I’ve been able to translate posts in 30 minutes.
Q: What are the drawbacks of using crowdsourcing?A: I’ll never be one to claim crowdsourcing is a “miracle cure,” as I realize it does have a few drawbacks. The biggest hurdle includes managing the process. With crowdsourcing, you’re getting a lot of people to help out, which means keeping a lot of people happy. And if you don’t keep your crowd happy, they can turn into an angry mob (as evidenced with the famous GAP logo redesign a few years ago).Crowdsourcing takes time. It’s not a set-and-forget work process. It takes time to provide feedback & support your crowd. Imagine having one employee working for you. Now imagine having 100.
Q: Why do some people see crowdsourcing as unethical or controversial?A: Designers don’t like the disruptive nature of crowdsourcing. When crowdsourcing is used for design work, it’s often in the contest model (lots of designers provide work, only one gets paid). This is what they call “spec work” which a segment of the design community believes is unethical. It’s a judgment call, as a lot of this world is built on spec work (from nearly every consumer product to multi-million dollar houses).Also, microtasking involves paying people pennies for work that takes seconds to complete. The very low cost causes people to bring up the age-old “minimum wage” discussion. While a lot of microtask work is completed overseas, several companies, including uTest, provide great salaries for individuals in the U.S.
Q: New forms of crowdsourcing seem to be growing (e.g. crowdvoting, wisdom of the crowd, crowdfunding, microwork, inducement prize contests, etc). Is this a good thing for businesses? Good for individuals?A: I don’t know that the new words are good for business, as I personally hate industry jargon. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize industry jargon simply turns potential clients away as it causes them to lack an understanding of what can be accomplished. These words are actually quite meaningless. These are all new terms for pre-existing processes. crowdvoting is a redundant term for “voting” (Have you ever held a vote without a crowd?).I think a lot of people are trying to jump on the “crowd” bandwagon, without realizing customers don’t buy something because of the hot buzzword. Customers do not buy crowdsourcing services. Customers buy solutions to existing business problems that are solved in the most effective way possible. Crowdsourcing just happens to be the most effective way possible. But no one goes looking for the best crowdsourcing provider. They go looking for the best video provider, web researcher, or SEO specialist. Those that utilize crowdsourcing to solve these problems provide the most effective solutions.Customers don’t care if it’s done with crowdvoting, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, microwork, etc. So inventing all these new confusing terms is not going to help your cause. To prove this, look at the most successful platforms and you won’t even see the word crowdsourcing on the homepage.
Q: What would you say to critics who think crowdsourcing takes advantage of people for little, to no, compensation?A: I have yet to see any crowdsourcing platforms that exploit human labor. In fact, a lot of these platforms are providing very expensive training resources to very poor & very uneducated populations. Some of the microwork platforms are providing opportunities to individuals who have no other (viable) options for providing money for their family. Those that aren’t sourcing their crowds the philanthropic way are adhering strictly to minimum wage laws in the countries they get work from.
Q: Is the quality of the work acquired through crowdsourcing of a lesser quality?A: It definitely can be. Depending on what type of project you run, how you run it, and the way you run it, you can get very poor results. But the whole point of crowdsourcing is to get a diverse set of results. Which means you’ll get everything from horrible to amazing results. Obviously the great results rise to the surface.
Q: If a company is interested in using crowdsourcing, what’s the best way to get started?A: The best way to get started is by signing up for Amazon MTurk and testing it out as a worker and requester. This will give you a sense of what crowdsourcing is, exactly how it works, and how to get great results. After using the MTurk platform, you’ll start to get ideas of how you can use it in your website. If you decide to go with design work, microwork, or simply getting your crowd engaged, you’ll have a better understanding of how to manage the process properly.
Q: How can a content creator such as a blogger, podcaster, or Web TV producer use crowdsourcing?A: Crowdsourcing is used to source labor from a crowd of workers. So it can be used to enhance nearly every work process you go through on your blog, podcast, or Web TV episode. The possibilities are literally endless. The most common uses are to get design work such as a logo, website design, or banner ad; to perform web research such as identify potential podcast interviewees; moderate your UGC (user generated content) such as forum posts, blog comments, or submitted articles; to provide voiceovers; or to provide video clips.
Q: Are there are pitfalls of crowdsourcing that are unique to content creatorsA: Nothing that’s unique only to content creators, but since one of the top uses of crowdsourcing is to create content, the biggest pitfall in this is ensuring the created content is of great quality.
To learn more about crowdsourcing and how it may be beneficial to your business goals, David’s offering a $200 discount to Crowdopolis in Los Angeles on July 19th. Just use promo code “Blogworld” and you get in at the discounted rate.
Have you used crowdsourcing? For what kind of project? What were the results? Would you try it again?