John Bell on Crowdsourcing

Vario Creative - design that's a step above the herd.John Bell of Ogilvy PR writes in his Digital Influence Mapping Project Blog on the subject of crowd sourcing, an idea I’ve been watching for sometime.� Basically, he cites two sites, Cambrianhouse.com and Sitepoint.com (disclosure: I have been a Sitepoint member for approximately 7 years, but never have participated in crowd sourcing).� Recently sites like Helium have started to apply similar principles to content generation.

Crowd sourcing, (in John’s post he offers his own definition which is less restrictive and possibly more accurate) as defined (and cited by John) in Wikipedia:

“a business model in which a company or institution takes a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsources it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call over the Internet. The work is compensated with little or no pay in most cases. However, in a few examples the labor is well-compensated. In almost every case crowdsourcing relies on amateurs or volunteers working in their spare time to create content, solve problems, or even do corporate R&D.[1].”

Jeff Howe of Wired offers a more succinct definition in his Crowdsourcing blog:

The application of Open Source principles to fields outside of software.

While John cites just the two, I’ve seen several other sites where people are bidding on either design or development work, on a semi-professional level, and I’m shocked to see the prices the work is going at. Similarly, I’d also suggest that Craigslist.com has become a more informal version of this. Get 15 people to bid a project, then turn around and ask the top 5 bidders to do an initial design bake-off.

I’m in complete agreement with John – if you want a professional design, you’re going to need to hire a professional designer. I do a very good business in fixing sites that were designed by rookies. The errors I see are routinely costing the site owner money and potential opportunity. Remember, your website is one of your primary points of marketing contact. You would not have your nephew paint the sign on the window of your retail store, or for that matter your truck, why would you think it was okay to have him do your website in his spare time? Does success mean so little?

And yes, I have heard potential customers say twice in the last week they were going to let their nephews do their work. News flash: your competition can’t wait to meet you in the marketplace!

John notes the difference between R&D functions and creative/service functions. I can see where in an R&D setting you might actually inspire some truly creative thinking but my experience with crowd sourcing in design is that you get what you pay for.

Perhaps I’m just old fashioned, but I don’t believe you should be holding competition for your design work, any more than you ought to be holding bake sales to pay for the work.

Other links:
Wired – June 2006 – The Rise of Crowd Sourcing
Ian King – Newsflash – Crowdsourcing Ain’t Cheap (I read this after I wrote my bit)

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