Sunday, September 22, 2013

Is Crowdsourcing A Good Thing?

Crowdsourcing is when companies use the public crowd to help the company solve complex problems. Crowdsourcing is an online distributed problem-solving and productive model that has emerged in recent years. Companies can post a problem online and a vast number of individuals can offer solutions to the company’s problem. Once an individual has a winning idea, that individual will be awarded some form of a bounty such as money. One of the many benefits to crowdsourcing is that the company does not have to upfront a huge amount of money to get professionals to help solve their problems. Many small corporations have had some success using crowd sourcing as a way to solve complex problems. In Daren Brabham’s article, he gives several examples of companies that have had success with crowdsourcing. Threadless and iStockphoto are two small corporations that have benefited greatly by the use of crowdsourcing. Threadless does not have to pay professional designers to design their shirts. Anyone that has access to the online world can go to Threadless’s website with a t-shirt design and if the staff like it and the design receives good ratings, then Threadless will adopt the contributor’s design. The individual of the winning design will get a $1,500 check and $500 worth of Threadless t-shirts. IStockphoto uses a very similar strategy. Amateur photographers submit three photos to be judged by the iStockphoto staff. Once the photos are picked, the photographer will receive a 20 cent royalty for every time their photos are downloaded. Each picture on the website cost from a dollar to five dollars. The more extravagant the photograph is the higher the cost of the image will be; for example, the best photos might cost forty dollars. Companies are able to use ordinary people that use the internet to help build their company without having a bunch of professional staff members. This allows the company to save enormous amount of money. (2008) The problem with crowdsourcing is that the crowd could turn on the corporation. When the crowd turns against the organization this is called crowdslapping. Think about it, the crowd that has the winning t-shirt design or winning photograph is not getting paid the same or nearly as much as someone that has professional training in design or photography. Also these freelancers do not have to be provided with health insurance, paid vacations and sick leave. They do not require an office or workspace nor does the company have to provide computers or software for these individuals. If the crowd were to become angry at the fact that their contributions do not match their compensation, such publicity could be damaging to the company. Some might even call it “labor exploitation on the internet (Brabham, 2008).” Also, the new age of crowdsourcing is causing professional photographers to become out-of-date. Brabham states, “Because of the willingness for amateur photographers to ‘dump’ their work on iStockphoto for next to nothing, professional stock photographer are becoming obsolete. The tragic tale in this loss of jobs is the last tail of an increasing obsolescence of the industrial economy as a whole, and the diffusion of technology (like the digital camera) spread of expert knowledge (via the web), and our discovery of value in amateurs can be seen as refreshing and liberating in its own way. (2008)” In other words, professionals are losing their jobs to crowdsourcing, because crowdsourcing allows individuals to connect with companies and be a part of the company’s agenda and product. So what is in it for the crowd? Well, the crowd can sport their own ideas and or photos. For example, an individual that won a t-shirt design could sport his or her own design; therefore, promoting him or herself as an innovator, creator, and designer. A winning iStockphoto photographer could add that to his or her resume or portfolio. The crowd gets to become part of a business or industry that they have not yet been able to break into as a full time employee. Individuals who would love to be a professional photographer can now participate with iStockphoto to reach their goals and dreams. Crowdsourcing is way for the ordinary person to play on the same playing field as professionals without having the proper training or a person who has the training but lacks the experience to land a job in their field. The crowd gets to be creative, and they do get something such as money or so forth for their participation. Not to mention, crowdsourcing participation allows them a chance to advance in their careers. Some of the people have become quite successful after they have dabbled in the world of crowdsourcing. Jeff Howe states that Ed Melcarek has made over $35,000 by solving company’s problems by participating on a website called InnoCentive. Mr. Melcarek helped solve a problem that Colgate-Palmolive was having concerning injecting fluoride powder into tubes without it disappearing into thin air. This particular problem earned him $25,000 for solving the case. Melcarek also received $10,000 for solving the method to purifying silicone-based solvents. InnoCentive is another website that allows the crowd to participate in corporate research and development problems. Just like with iStockphoto and Threadless, individuals can go to the website and submit solutions to several companies’ problems. (Brabham, 2008) Another individual by the name of Lisa Gagne has had huge success from crowdsourcing. She has had over 390,000 of her photos downloaded on iStockphoto. Her and her husband can now live very comfortably. (Brabham, 2008) However, another problem with crowdsourcing is that there is still a digital divide in this world. Not everyone is able to get online and have a fast connection speed. There are many individuals that are unable to get high-speed internet. Also, most people that are using the internet according to Brabham are white, middle to upper class people with higher education. Therefore, the digital divide is causing a lack of diversity in crowdsourcing. (2008) Much like anything else in this fast paced ever evolving digital world, there is going to be ups and downs and pros and cons. Crowdsourcing is no different.


The rise of crowdsourcing

Crowdscourcing as a model for problem solving

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