The Sweat of the Crowd

November 4, 2006

When Chris Messina referred to crowdsourcing as the neue sweatshop he was coming from an anti-corporation, or pro-community point of view.

I would assume that he’s referring to the Mechanical Turk model of crowdsourcing where you can land yourself a lot of work for very little reward. Although there is no requirement to take a task you consider underpaid. There is no minimum number of tasks to be completed on a hourly, weekly or monthly basis. It is not billed as a replacement for you day job. It is certainly not even billed as a community. There are no aspects to the site designed to encourage interaction with other users. You come, you work, you leave. (OK – maybe the sweatshop analogy does apply here!)

There is at least the offer of financial return which is not an aspect of most online communities. If a crowdsourcing project aims to steal someone’s work or intellectual property then this is clearly not correct.

iStockphoto is a community of photographers who are paid for their contributions to a stock photography collection. Everything is in order. Your work is labelled as your work and protected under licence. Payments for work are clearly displayed. Payments are handled on your behalf. The company is actually part of Getty Images. In this example, crowdsourcing as a sweatshop couldn’t be further from the truth.

While the sweatshop analogy for cheap labour is relevant it does imply corporations stealing from the efforts of an individual. Something which any individual would always have the decision to avoid.

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Redefining Crowdsourcing

October 30, 2006

The introduction for the original Wired article about crowdsourcing reads:
“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.”

There are three important words in that title: outsourcing, jobs and labor. Each of these words implies that work will be rewarded financially.

If the whole premise of crowdsourcing were to be based on the premise of payment, then discussions of ‘what is crowdsourcing’ would be simple.

Digg would be nothing without it’s an active user community, but it does not pay them so it is not crowdsourcing. Wikipedia relies on volunteers to contribute content but does not pay them so it is not crowdsourcing. Amazon encourages users to write reviews of books but does not pay for them, so it is not crowdsourcing. Nowpublic.com relies on it’s user community to post news stories but does not pay them for contributions, so is not crowdsourcing. All these are examples of great user communities but they are not examples of crowdsourcing.

Mechanical Turk exists to link workers to work and pay them for it. The principle behind the site is to allow someone to post a task which they need someone else to complete. This can be because specialist knowledge is required or because it’s tedious job that someone else will be willing to do for pennies.

Cambrian House is asking for ideas for software that they can produce and sell. They ask the crowd to submit ideas, they ask the crowd to vote on the ideas and they ask the crowd to contribute work towards designing and building the final product. If you are involved in the project you get a royalty payment based on the success of the product.

iStockphoto allows you to upload your artwork, photos and videos so that others can browse and buy your work. Selling uploaded work wasn’t an after thought, it’s why the site was designed – to connect those looking for stock artwork and those looking to sell it.

Threadless is a t-shirt site that only sells designs contributed by users. Designs are uploaded and voted on with winning designs being put into production. The beauty of this being that you know a design is going to sell because the users on the site are also your customers.

The term crowdsourcing may not be around for very long if it’s definition continues to be watered down, or is it time to redefine the term?

This article was prompted by comments at Horse Pig Cow and further discussion at Billions with Zero Knowledge.


YouTube – Built On Crowdsourcing

October 17, 2006

Steve Rubel at MicroPersuasion urges creative companies to embrace creative crowdsourcing as a way of giving customers what they want.

He also credits the success of YouTube and it’s acqusition, to crowdsourcing:

Crowdsourcing is one reason YouTube was such an attractive acquisition for Google. Marketers by the boatload are rushing to launch campaigns where consumers, not the advertising agency alone, determine what goes into a television ad. The TV nets have been at it even longer. Reality television and text-message voting for American Idol are at their heart, crowdsourcing.


Our Reporter in the Crowd

October 14, 2006

The Indianapolis Star has announced a new initiative which it has termed crowdsourcing, although I would classify it as citizen journalism or networked reporting.