Crowdsourcing and you

potato salad
Potato Salad from Tech Crunch

An independent project raises 5,549% of it’s goal, $1000 dollar stock photos are now going for $1, businesses are spending $25,000 for R&D instead of “several times that amount”, and most articles on businesses in Wikipedia have some inaccuracy in them. These are just some examples of how crowdsourcing is changing the face of our economic and literate society.

 Aug 2 2014, was the final day in the fundraising for an independent project which received 5,549% of it’s goal. An amazing gathering of funding for any business.  What was it? Potato salad. Yup. Potato salad.  This project became viral and got 6,911 backers to raise a total of $55,492 which was $55,482 more than the $10 he asked for.  Not only did he take that amount and fund a community event “Potatostock 2014”. He also ended up donating a good portion of the proceeds to charity. “This will create a permanent fund to help Central Ohio’s non-profits end hunger and homelessness.”

In June 2006, wired reported that Mark Harmel, a photographer had gone from an average return of $690 per stock photograph in 2000 to just $59 in 2006.  Thus encouraging Mr. Hamel to get out of the stock business. What was the cause of his business transition? Super cheap stock photos from non-professionals marketed through sites like istockphoto.  This de-professionalization is changing the focus of some professional photographers.

 Other areas are becoming de-professionalized in other senses as well. Take for example television which is utilizing more and more user created content to reduce overhead or professional tasks that traditionally cost $2000 paying $5 from “qualified” persons via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. And of course businesses opening up difficult problems for others to solve on solution based pay through InnoCentive an online platform for outsourcing your R&D. Thus costing the businesses $25,000 instead of significantly more.  While solution based pay may be fair to the creators of the winning solution, those who don’t win, don’t get paid.  Thus enabling businesses to harness the brain power of hundreds of people for substantially less than they would pay a single employee. In design we call this “comping,” and there are generally professional standards against and legal reasons for not doing it. And in some ways it seems like union busting or strike breaking.  And definitely seems like a corporation taking advantage of labor. Which possibly will injure corporation’s talent pool in the long run.

All of these examples mentioned are considered crowdsourcing, and all vary in their focus. Some are just for laughs (potato salad, I’m looking at you) and some may have serious consequences (I’m looking at you InnoCentive).

Some other examples of crowdsourcing is IBM’s Jams, which seek to solve a variety of problems that the business faces or wants to explore. With it’s finite timeline of 72 hours and it’s summary report afterwards, this version of crowdsourcing seems akin to an extended survey/interview.  Whereas Wikipedia’s crowdsourcing can lead to inaccurate and biased information about a company. Especially since those who know one aspect of the company best (PR people) are not permitted to utilize easy and timely methods of editing.

So there seem to be boons and banes for crowdsourcing.  And crowdsourcing as a method seems still a nascent process.

What do you think? Does crowdsourcing solutions provide a net benefit or injury to laborers, businesses and the society? Is crowdsourcing a sustainable economy?  

How do professionals distinguish their value from non-professionals to compete in a crowdsourced economy?


4 responses to “Crowdsourcing and you”

  1. I don’t think all crowdsourcing is created equal.

    I think crowdsourcing when it’s focused on generating ideas and information (i.e. the greater good) it is a fabulous idea. The IBM Jams are a great example. This kind of brainstorming will definitely help the world make advances in important areas. Like Allison said in her presentation last night, crowdsourcing has great potential to benefit the greater good.

    I think crowdsourcing becomes a touchy subject when it involves private businesses seeking cheap labor. The Average Joe might not think much about it, but when it comes to professionals who have trained, studied, and practiced to perfect their art or craft, fighting against the “crowd” could be especially threatening. Don’t we see this played out over and over when large corporations move into town and kick out the small guys? Remember, “You’ve Got Mail”? A lot of people are turning to see small businesses as important; couldn’t we look at crowdsourcing in a similar way? I feel I’d want to support the local photographer who is passionate about what he does, rather than buying a ton of stock photos for $1.

    • You have some good points… not all crowdsourcing is created equal, and brainstorming communities like TED talks can be great communities to be apart from. And where your pay is in friendship, networking, and/or hopefully making the world better.

      The Walmart analogy is a good one, only the mob is Walmart, which is a weird twist to think about. In someways I think free is better than $1, as there’s no pretensions about what is happening… the $1 is placing an actual value on something related to another thing that has a much higher value, thus degrading it.

  2. I think the benefits and drawbacks of crowdsourcing really depend on the situation. In the case of Mechanical Turk, I think it’s sort of cheap on Amazon’s part. It seems that a lot of people have figured that out and it’s continued to lose popularity. As far as outing professionals like the photographer in the istockphoto example, I think it’s sort of sad and there’s an obvious loss of quality because of it (not that all non professional photographer can’t take amazing pictures). A positive product of crowdsourcing is the minds of many coming together to solve a problem. That can be really powerful, if you can get all of their input (IBM’s Jams).

    Also, I think professionals can speak for themselves with the quality of work they produce. There’s a reason higher education exists, because it takes a lot of time to master a subject and practice it. I don’t think formal education will ever lose it’s value and therefore the professionals produced by it will not lose their value either.

    • Absolutely, the Mechanical Turk is really cheap… 3 cents for data entry that takes 3 minutes is still way too cheap… that’s 60 cents an hour… I wonder how many people doing the work are from the US, and how many (and what) other countries they maybe from.
      Good point about professionals work should speak for themselves. And the better you source your images, the better you look, but if you can get mid range images for no cost… would that hurt your competitiveness if others are doing the same in your industry?

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