December 14, 2012 by ClaudiaZumpe
By Claudia D. Zumpe, MSc in Management Consulting 3 student
Crowdsourcing is an emerging practice that has in recent years gained popularity in the business landscape. Forms and applications are manifold, manifesting themselves for example in innovation contests for new product ideas, online brainstorming sessions on strategic issues or even software development in a collective format. Crowdsourcing is defined by Howe (2008), who coined the term, as “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.” However, due to the novelty of the concept, there is currently no singular definition; furthermore, lack of unity regarding different forms of Crowdsourcing exists. For example, it can be distinguished between commercial and non-profit use, as well as between unremunerated and financially rewarded Crowdsourcing initiatives.
When reading about Crowdsourcing, usually great enthusiasm about using the collective intelligence of a large, distributed crowd is prompted. However, the thought about its implications on some professions and the future of work also involuntarily come to mind.
An interesting development that I came across is using Crowdsourcing commercially as a working model, for example, as is being done in Amazon Mechanical Turk. Using the crowd explicitly as a workforce can lead to labor scalability and flexibility, as well as cost savings. Furthermore, talent can be tapped globally and the “wisdom of the crowd” can be utilized. For contributors this is often a fun and productive pastime and an opportunity to apply and improve skills in an online community. Depending on the form of Crowdsourcing it can even be a source of income based on meritocracy.
The downside of Crowdsourcing should, however, also not be disregarded. Organizations using Crowdsourcing as a working model may encounter quality problems and issues of worker retention or intellectual property rights. The lack of control over “the crowd” is a major concern. From a participant’s perspective, it needs to be pointed out that Crowdsourcing initiatives offer no job security and usually only low pay. Work is purely on speculation so it may lead to work intensification.
In my opinion, this consideration shows that commercial use of Crowdsourcing is a controversial issue due to the various opportunities and threats. However, I believe that the outcome depends on what form of Crowdsourcing is used and how it is implemented. If a thorough and fair implementation strategy is devised, the positive and negative traits of Crowdsourcing may be balanced.
Independent of its consequences, I think that Crowdsourcing in its commercial and non-commercial forms is an interesting trend to keep an eye on.
I guess that only time will show whether Crowdsourcing’s creative or destructive potential will prevail, but what do you think?
Howe, J. (2008): Crowdsourcing. Why the Power of the Crowd is driving the Future of Business, http://Crowdsourcing.typepad.com/cs/2006/06/Crowdsourcing_a.html (status as of: 04.11.2012)
P.S.: For those of you looking for an introductory, easy-to-understand read about Crowdsourcing, I can recommend the following books (that take an enthusiastic stance towards to the topic):
Howe, J. (2009): Crowdsourcing. Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business. London 2009.
Surowiecki, J. (2004): The Wisdom Of Crowds. Why The Many Are Smarter Than The Few And How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies, And Nations. London 2004.