Crowdsourcing, producerism, and consumers

Wired has an important article in their June issue on what they’ve dubbed crowdsourcing. What is crowdsourcing?

Remember outsourcing? Sending jobs to India and China is so 2003. The new pool of cheap labor: everyday people using their spare cycles to create content, solve problems, even do corporate R & D.

Jeff Howe, the author of Crowdsourcing, gives plenty of examples: it’s people uploading photos to iStockphoto where companies and people who need photos can buy them on the cheap. It’s VH1 sourcing videos that “ordinary” people have uploaded to the internet and building a show around them. It’s Proctor & Gamble finding underemployed brainiacs who solve thorny science and engineering problems at InnoCentive. And it’s Amazon’s Mechanical Turk … outsourcing fundamentally simple and repetitive problems that humans still do better than machines.

Other examples that Howe did not give but could have include the recent development of services that enable bloggers to sell their stories to mainstream media companies … newspapers, magazines, etc. … for a fraction of what a staff writer would cost. (For the life of me I cannot find that link back – help!) Or imagine excellent podcasts being paid for retransmission on satellite or terrestrial radio. I could see this happening with Venture Voice easily.

To me, this is incredibly relevant to the discussion on my recent We Are Not Consumers post. I wrote it in quasi-response to Pete Blackshaw’s Consumer-generated media blog … and Pete responded with a lengthy comment explaining why he still prefers the term “consumer.”

However, as the Wired article lists, 57% of 12- to 17-year-olds online are contributing to the web in one way or another:

Late last year the Pew Internet & American Life Project released a study revealing that 57 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds online – 12 million individuals – are creating content of some sort and posting it to the Web.

This is literally changing the world. However, if you’re a company that wants to take advantage of these new opportunities to get more work done cheaper, or to get work done that you’ve always wanted to do but could never do affordably, everything that is presented here relies on 4 things:

  1. Digitization
    All parts of the workflow must be digital. Ideally, not just in PDF form but in malleable formats: text is text, images are images, structure is structure. Everything is broken down to its component bits. 
  2. Dis-aggregation
    It must be possible to route any and every individual piece wherever it is needed to whomever is needed whenever needed. This allows you to break complex tasks down into simple component chunks, which reduces specialized knowledge needed for any individual job. 
  3. Re-aggregation
    After you’ve spread jobs all over the face of the earth, potentially, you need to be able to assemble all the bits and bytes back together. 
  4. Flexible smart project managers
    The entire process needs to be managed by smart flexible people who are open to new opportunities and able to adapt quickly to change.

7 CommentsLeave a comment

  • John, your interaction and observation on “crowdsourcing” have really got my mind racing.

    Your last point on the need for smart and flexible project managers has me wondering where one might find these rare and nimble birds….hmmm.

    Of course Memorial Day weekend is before me here in Iowa. But I will be thinking on this as I wash and wax the car this weekend. We know how to party in Iowa!

    Thanks for enlarging the conversation!

  • Good to hear from you, Michael. Yeah I have exciting weekends too, like taking the kids to their T-ball games, weeding the garden …


  • Hello, I’m the founder of a new crowdsourcing company which aims to design new innovative electronic products. This can be a revolution on the manufacturing industry. A well experienced team is already working on that project which is getting a lot of sponsor. Look at the blog to get further details : Bookmark this address as we have scheduled to launch an official website by the mid of october for joining this promising community.

  • Hmmm … good luck.

    If I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t see how you can crowdsource EVERYTHING. (I also wonder about your qualifications … your site is a little English-challenged.)

  • Hello John, you’re right my english is definitively not perfect as It’s not my motherlanguage.To fix this major issue, all the future communication will be reviewed by one of team’s menber, Craig who is scottish. Regarding my qualifications, let me give you more background: I’m currently supply chain program manager in charge of setupping a new supply chain of spare parts for repairing the consumer products in EMEA of one of the biggest computer company (It could be event the biggest one since fews days 😉 , I let you guess). My background is clearly on the supply chain world and I do know how it works for designing products with the help of Original Design Manufacturer (ODM). I’m extremely confident that our innovation will be not based on pure new technology, as It’s not our target, but it will be based on customer experience. I will be more than happy to provide with more details about our initiative if you want. Our version 1 of the official website is currently under design and will be launched in the coming weeks. Best regards. Lionel