Crowdsourcing: Harnessing the Convergence of Ideas

You know a concept is in its early stages when even the leaders in the field are struggling with how to define it. Thus is the rub with the current state of crowdsourcing. From a marketers’ perspective, it’s considered to be an economy of resources based on individuals pitching their talents for an open task or business project for hire … that is when it’s not simply used to poll the masses for input on a research topic. Whether the future of crowdsourcing resides as a nuance to open-source ideation or as an efficient mass research tool, I believe it will pioneer much more than what has been considered thus far.   

In June of 2006, Jeff Howe introduced the term crowdsourcing in an article he wrote for Wired. He discussed how technological breakthroughs were cutting down the economic barriers that used to preclude amateurs from competing with professionals. In the opinions of most experts, the evolution of this concept reached new heights with a recent Netflix success story.

The company used crowdsourcing for a global contest to achieve a 10 percent increase in the accuracy of their predictive movie recommendation tool. More than 40,000 teams from 186 countries threw their hats in the ring. The beauty of this exercise: the seven individuals on the winning team had never been in the same room until the award ceremony. 

The clearest definition I’ve found for crowdsourcing comes from a recent article by iQuantum, the self-titled web marketing scientists. They say crowdsourcing occurs when “businesses make use of the free, wide audience that the Internet gives them, and uses that audience to gain ideas, a product or service, or feedback – things that will ultimately lead that business to profit. It is typically opening up an idea that would normally be performed by one or a few people to a large group of people (or anyone on the Internet, as is becoming common).”

At its best, crowdsourcing allows companies to efficiently procure the ideas and services of a limitless audience while creating greater loyalty from a widening support group. On the downside, some of the early obstacles have focused on the economics and legalities surrounding this new business model. Too often, projects run long, participants aren’t properly compensated for their efforts, and in many cases, the “crowd” doesn’t provide the wisdom the initiating business is hoping for.

From my perspective, the greatest challenges remain in structuring the ideation collection process and providing adequate compensation for services rendered. Different thought leadership groups are taking a stab at this model – most notably lead by a recent adoption of this platform by John Winsor, co-author of “Baked In,” via his Boulder, Colorado startup Victors and Spoils. Check out his and other experts’ thoughts on the matter from the 2010 Social Media Week conference recently held in New York.  

What do you consider crowdsourcing’s greatest challenges to be as it evolves, and where do you think it will lead us as classic advertising models continue to be neutered by the advent of this digital age?