Crowdsourcing (v): the process of subverting the traditional work model by posing a task via open call to an undefined, voluntary group of people, instead of an employed individual or team.
Examples: American Idol. Wikipedia. Kickstarter. Craigslist. “Wanted” posters.
Since Jeff Howe first coined the term in a 2006 Wired article, crowdsourcing has slowly but surely worked its way into the public eye. Beginning as a mere corporate buzzword, it has evolved from a business term into a wide umbrella that, we’re now realizing, encompasses the way a surprisingly large array of organizations get things done.
But still, there is some resistance. The No!Spec movement among the design community urges aspiring artists and designers to stay away from the “contest” model of crowdsourcing, fearful that they won’t be paid for their hard work. And you don’t have to look hard to find crowdsourcing efforts that have gone horrifically bad; sometimes they don’t even have to be posted by the company in question. Some companies prefer to avoid the term altogether, preferring to bill themselves under a less-loaded word. There are legitimate concerns. And yet…
A recent TimesJobs.com survey revealed that nearly 57% of the surveyed employers use crowdsourcing for recruitment purpose, whether through minor projects completed by fans, or in-house employees vetted through some sort of crowd-sourced method. More than half of them noted the cost and efficiency of such methods compared to traditional models. If it’s so successful and apparently on the rise, is there still a need to be demure about it?
At times like this, I find it helpful to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. And the bigger picture is this: we are, as a sentient race of humans, becoming more and more aware of the exact extent to which our world is completely messed up. The widespread acceptance of the Internet led to the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, social media, and a voice for every individual, and that means that it’s becoming more and more difficult to be ignorant of the sticky issues our humble planet faces.
What this means for Joe Average is that he’s feeling a new surge of responsibility and duty to fixing these perceived issues, but unfortunately he still has mostly the same tools to work with. Being made aware of problems is sadly not the same as being given the power to solve them, although it is the first step. The next step is to create an infrastructure that allows Joe to contribute to helping solve the problems he is now all-too-aware of. And what do we call that system?
Well, Jeff Howe calls it crowdsourcing. You can call it “the best damn focus group you’ve ever seen” at the very least, but you could also call it “cost-effective labor”, “the infinite idea creation engine”, and “massive-scale QA”. These crowds are full of employees, consumers, parents, friends, students, and citizens; through their various roles, they can see sides of your business that you may not be able to. And they want to help you improve.
So let them. Hold a contest on 99Designs to get a fresh new logo. Raise money for a side project on Crowdcube. You could even hire someone to do your mundane daily work on a site like… oh, I dunno, Ziptask or something.
But if you hesitate, your competitors won’t. Almost two-thirds of them are already on the bandwagon. Can you afford to wait much longer?