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Crowdsourcing is not milking the masses for free labour, so put away your teets

I read Tara Hunt’s Please Stop Crowdsourcing Me blog post this morning over a holiday-inspired coffee and baileys.

What Tara had to say about crowdsourcing:

“I’ve been a long opponent to the term ‘Crowdsourcing’ as it invokes the image of an unpaid group of volunteers giving ideas for free while a corporation rakes in endless profits from them.”

It made me think about my goals for the year 2008.
At the top of my list now: Educate the world about the true meaning of the word “crowdsource.”

It drives me up the wall when people like Tara blacklist the term as if it’s a naughty word. As if crowdsourcing is when corporations lure consumers into their worlds with promises of better products and more transparency - only to suck consumers’ hearts and minds dry… But that’s not the case.

Crowdsourcing is not about loving you then leaving you.

It’s about making your business practices transparent and the walls of your office porous. It’s about creating ways to engage consumers, listen to them, act on their feedback and reward them with more than a one-time pat on the back. There are loads of fantastic examples of crowdsourcing at its best, which Tara neglects to highlight.

I really respect Tara’s work - but as a community evangelist, I don’t understand why she wouldn’t be helping create a list of crowdsourcing best practices. After all, crowds are communities. They need to be inspired, engaged, educated, entertained… Members need to see value in their contributions. If they feel “used and abused” they won’t return.

Some awesome examples of crowdsourcing:

1. Threadless — crowdsources designs, but the designers gain fame and make cash… sounds like reciprocity to me!
2. InnoCentive — Companies pose problems to the community and members who solve problems earn cash rewards
3. Sell-a-Band — wanna-be rock stars get to source the crowd for funding and votes… they gain fame, cut an album and create a built-in fan base
4. iStockPhoto — iStock sources stock photography from its community members - in return, they network with other photographers and make money off the images they sell
5. Adobe’s developer community — I want to throw this in because there isn’t always a monetary reward, nor do their community members gain fame, but they engage developers in a 24/7 conversation about their products and the entire company listens

Shameless plug: We provide tools for anyone using our crowdsourcing platform to reward contributors who help them polish an idea or build a business using our crowdsourcing model. Over $60,000 has exchanged hands between members in Cambrian House in the past 6 months.

Also, props to Andy Doan, Cambrian House community member who is crowdsourcing his business “FilmRiot.” Thanks to feedback from the crowd and work they’ve done to support him, Andy left his job on an automotive assembly line and has become President of his own company - and is raising his first round of financing. I’m sure the “crowd” feels really good about helping him achieve his goals.

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31 Responses to “Crowdsourcing is not milking the masses for free labour, so put away your teets”

  1. Nollind Whachell Says:

    Well in Tara’s defense (as I just wrote in a comment on her post), I understand where she’s coming from. Of course, everyone perceives things based upon their unique experiences with that thing. For example, I might love chiropractors, yet I know friends who hate them and find them useless. Again it depends upon your unique experiences. My chiropractor may be great but the one you went to may be horrible. It’s no different than any other profession (i.e. dentist, doctor, etc).

    The same applies to things like crowdsourcing and other buzzwords. For example, you’ll often hear companies talking about the “communities” around them, when in actually fact they have no communities whatsoever, since they just broadcast out and don’t have any two way interaction or feedback from their customers or users. But of course, the company continues to use the word “communities” because it’s a common buzzword to show your connection with the times (and thus it makes their investors feel warm and fuzzy).

    As I wrote in my comment on her site though, I do see both sides of the fence. For example, your mention of “making your business practices transparent” and “members need to see their value in contributions” are dead on. Because you’re right, if they don’t see it, then they’ll feel “used and abused” (similar to how Tara seemed to feel in her post) and thus they’ll leave the community for some other place where they are more appreciated and rewarded for their contributions.

  2. Tara Hunt Says:

    I think I will ask my friends at Threadless, iStockPhoto and Sell-a-Band if they would define their positive community interaction as ‘Crowdsourcing’. I would venture a guess that they would not like their names being associated with this term.

    I believe the term, as well as the practice, should be eradicated over the new year, not promoted. I will not use my reputation to aid yours.

  3. jasmine Says:

    Tara, I love that you’re an ambassador for the rights of people in online communities - but I’ll always strive to help clarify the term “crowdsourcing” for people as our hope is that people in online communities are heard and valued.

    In fact, iStockPhoto is being featured in Jeff Howe’s upcoming book on crowdsouring. Although I’m not 100 per cent sure,I think Sell-a-Band will be in there, too.

    Regardless, a healthy debate is always good! And we’ll see how the definition solidifies.

  4. Anonymous Says:


  5. Patrick Lor Says:

    The term “crowdsourcing” was coined by Jeff Howe last year - and iStockphoto was extremely pleased that the word has become as popular as it is today. Before that, we always struggled to describe our business, using terms such as “User Generated Content”.

  6. Nollind Whachell Says:

    Actions not words will relay the true heart of any person or organization. Therefore you can agree to disagree on the words but the actions will speak truthfully for themselves.

  7. Tom Powell Says:

    It seems Tara has an overly negative view of Crowdsourcing. It is simply a term describing what is and has been going on in communities for a while. It isn’t inherently negative or positive. (Though obviously iStockPhoto, per the above comment, very much enjoys being called a crowdsourcer.)

    And if for whatever reason you don’t enjoy how a company is crowdsourcing, here’s the best part: you don’t have to participate. Only those companies which effectively crowdsource (providing the right incentives — both intrinsic and extrinsic) will survive and thrive. Tara seems to categorize all negative/failed/exploitative attempts as “crowdsourcing” and all positive/successfull/mutually beneficial attempts as “customer led innovation”. Which doesn’t seem to make much sense.

  8. Jasmine Antonick Says:

    Great points, Tom.
    In the Age of Participation, you have a choice of whether or not you want to participate :)

  9. Jeff De Cagna Says:

    Jasmine, this is a great post. I’m particularly interested in your 2008 goal to educate people about crowdsourcing. I am actually involved with a professional gathering taking place on the West Coast this summer that would offer you the opportunity to educate an audience that is mostly unfamiliar with both Cambrian House and crowdsourcing. It would be great if you could be a speaker. Can I contact you about it? Please let me know ASAP. Thanks!

  10. Paul Poutanen Says:

    This indeed is an interesting discussion.

    “Crowdsourcing” is not “freesourcing or open sourcing” in my opinion.

    I see crowdsourcing as using the crowd with intrinsic and/or extrinsic incentives. (Thanks Tom) This is not a gauging excercise. People will not do stuff for free (at least not for very long).

    The use of social tools to find the right people at the right time for the right work is what is really important.

    Crowdsourcing allows feedback and it allows things to be done that could not have been done before.

    from wikipedia definition “Crowdsourcing is a neologism for the act of taking a task traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people, in the form of an open call”

    I believe crowdsourcing will change the face of work in the years to come.

  11. generic_idea_machine Says:

    - is CH a true crowd-sourcing venture?
    - what does the CH fine print have to say about intellectual property rights for all the ideas submitted?
    - how many years has CH been in existance now and how many ventures (successful and non) does it have under it’s belt

    these are some of the basic questions everyone should think/research about before marketing their venture on Cambrian House

  12. Aaron Strouta Says:

    Jasmine - totally agree with your line of thinking here. “Crowdsourcing” is only negative if you perceive it to be so. We can ask Jeff H. directly but my guess is that he coined the term, he intended for it to be a positive (or at least neutral term) that spoke to the concept of using a community of customers, partners or employees to help problem solve. To that end, Cambrian House proves that companies that “crowdsource” aren’t all pillaging their crowd as you give back a % of your company to your contributors. Folks like Threadless, iStockphoto et al. do the same. Keep on crowdsourcing!!!

  13. Jasmine Says:

    Thanks Aaron.
    We look forward to digging deeper into the up’, down’s and inner workings of Crowdsourcing at the WebGuild Conference in Santa Clara on Tuesday :)

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