What Is Crowdsourcing?
The term crowdsourcing was coined in 2006 and has grown in popularity ever since. Crowdsourcing is the act of relaying a task, question or request to a large group of the public with the aim to collect data, opinions or funds in return.
This tool enables companies or individuals to tap into a large pool of experts, workers and contributors, all with varying skills and expertise, to find solutions to projects that might otherwise be too expensive to complete in-house. The benefit and reach of crowdsourcing is vast, from canvasing the public for possible marketing ideas, to finding the best graphic designer for the job. Due to the recent growth in global communication software and social media platforms, crowdsourcing has become an increasingly popular tool for both corporations and individuals alike.
The Rise of Crowdsourcing
In today’s world of social media, people have the potential to reach larger sections of the public to find what they need. While the internet is a database of information, it is also the doorway to all the skilled people using it. Centralized models of business are slowly becoming decentralized and people are rethinking the standard systems that typically run a company. The speed at which today’s digital economy works is forcing organizations to move quicker.
As technology has advanced and given us applications in the palms of our hands, so has the user’s roll in these applications. The millennial generation, surrounded by the growth of the digital economy, has celebrated the concept of user generated content and placed more power in the public to co-create products, collaborate on solutions and form ideas.
Types of crowdsourcing
The scope of crowdsourcing is vast and still growing. There are many forms this tool can take, each with a unique application and benefit. Depending on the project you are working on, the needs of the task and the platform you use, each type of crowdsourcing will offer something different. Finding the right forum and targeting the right crowd is essential to gain the most out of this device. Here are the main categories of crowdsourcing.
- Small Tasks – Companies can segment out smaller tasks to be completed quicker and to a higher standard when using a crowd. This can work in one of two ways. A company can reach out to the crowd with a specific task, such as designing a new logo, and then choose the best one and pay that designer. Alternatively, a company might ask a large group of the public to help them write short captions for a group of images. The company will pay a small amount for each caption and use all of the work submitted. In the first example, the company is searching the crowd for the best person for the job and reducing the time it would take them to interview for a logo designer in the traditional system. In the second example, a company is using the crowd to complete a very large work load in a fraction of the time, saving money on having this work done in-house by only a few employees.
- Larger Projects – Ridesharing services and ad hoc delivery applications are examples of how companies use ridesharing. A company will canvas a large portion of the public to complete a significant part of what the company offers. Members of the public grab each task as they come and are subsequently paid for their involvement. Unlike traditional centralized systems, these companies are not responsible for the participants when they are not completing a task and do not have to concern themselves with the allocation of work. Without the collaboration of multiple members of the public, these businesses could not operate with the same efficiency.
- Competitions – Contests can also be used to canvas ideas and create work. For example, photography competitions can generate public-run exhibitions. One of the benefits of competitions is the marketing bonus that is often attached. Film competitions can be used to generate commercial content for a brand while also acting as a marketing tool in itself. As members of the public battle it out to create an advert that will be chosen to air nationally, the public are simultaneously being exposed to the brand and the products in question.
- Opinions – Not all data collected by crowdsourcing is data driven or objective. Some crowdsourcing techniques require the public to submit their opinion or personal experience. Traffic and navigational applications lean on active users to contribute to an up-to-date picture of traffic conditions. A company can also use social media to crowdsource an opinion on a new product and use the result to improve the production.
- Crowdfunding – Asking the general public to raise funds for a specific cause may be one of the more understood types of crowdsourcing. Crowdfunding platforms enable members of the public to donate funds into an account, which can then be used towards a cause. Crowdfunding sites raise funds for individuals, charities and companies, providing a way for projects to receive money quicker than traditional fundraising methods. Crowd currency is the original term for what we now understand as cryptocurrency. The joint effort in mining from multiple members of the public helps both form the currency and give it its validity.
Advantages and Disadvantages
While there are numerous advantages to using crowdfunding for personal endeavors or corporate projects, there are some weaknesses in the system. Depending on the project you are working on and the circumstances of how you crowdsource, the downsides may outweigh the benefits you receive.
Here are some of the main advantages of using crowdsourcing.
- Low cost – Due to the number of people you are able to engage with for free, you can find the best results for a fraction of the cost. In a traditional setting, you may go through several hires until you find the right candidates for the job. Crowdsourcing helps you find that person quickly without losing money hiring several candidates that are not successful.
- Fast turnaround – The speed at which you can get something done is considerably faster due to the sheer number of people you have working on it. If you have a smaller company, you may not have the man-power to complete simple, repetitive tasks. Crowdsourcing these items can speed up your delivery and save your company money in the long-run.
- Outside Opinion – For most projects, it is important to maintain a certain level of objectivity and perspective. When you are very close to a project or wish to see how the concept will fair to other people, crowdsourcing can be a great way to achieve this. Similarly, if you tap into a large crowd of unconnected individuals, who are outside of your field or line of work, you open yourself up to people with varying talents and expertise, adding perspective and greater insight into finding a solution to a problem.
The downsides to crowdsourcing are few but important to consider when turning to the public for help. While the crowd can be used as an untapped resource, there are projects that may suffer from the exposure or collaboration of multiple people.
- Loss of quality – the quality of a project may be compromised if crowdsourced to a large group of the public with little knowledge or care for the outcome. If your project needs a very specific skillset, try canvassing the crowd first for those who are in the same field and then crowdsource the tasks from that group.
- Broken confidentiality – Crowdsourcing typically involves a large group of people who are unconnected to the creators of the project and are not tied or invested in the outcome or protection of the work. Confidentiality clauses are hard to adhere to and may results in patents or private information from leaking. If you have a company with a large employee-base who have already signed a non-disclosure agreement, you may want to consider crowdsourcing your employees instead of the general public.
- Loss of Control – Make sure you maintain control of your vision and ultimate outcome in the project you are outsourcing. Competitions that do not have clearly defined contribution guidelines may result in the company having to use a submission that is not in line with their brand.