Monday, March 8, 2010

Crowdsourcing - true value or unfair competition?

Crowdsourcing is a modern term that describes the use of a group or community to complete a task at hand. This crowdsourcing phenomenon as it relates to the internet initially started with creatives tasks such as design work being crowdsourced by companies large and small. Small or freelance designers suddenly had access to projects for the biggest brands while small businesses could now relatively afford high-end design work. The internet was the perfect medium for such services as it brought millions of potential creative folks together right where they were needed.

This phenomenon like many others on the internet has since been ported to other applications. These range from crowdsourcing solutions for complex R&D problems to getting mechanical tasks completed. You can find more examples here.

This seems like a wonderful idea, but is everything all hunky dory? Crowdsourcing has faced criticisms in that:
  1. Quality of work received is often lower
  2. A lot of wasted effort in crowdsourced competitions
  3. Difficult to maintain relationships with crowdsourced workers
I feel that although these criticism may be true, businesses (those paying for crowdsourcing) need to understand that not all tasks are appropriate for crowdsourcing and they must pick and choose when the pros outweigh the cons.

I posted a crowdsourced logo design project on a short while ago. On a relatively small budget, I quickly realized that most of the projects offered rewards much greater than mine and it seemed apparent that the higher the reward the greater the number of submissions. I understand that this is completely rational since more designers will be attracted by the prospect of more $$$. The key question is, will the level and quality of my designs be lower than if more money had been offered? I'll wait to find out. Eventually I think it all stays the same, since the money offered by larger companies will always be higher than what a small business owner can offer and thus attract better designers. Just like a non-crowdsourced project.

Have you conducted a crowdsourced project? What was your experience?

Crosslisted here


  1. Thanks for writing about this, Taha. Crowdsourcing seems to be a growing phenomena and it's important for upcoming entrepreneurs to realize the value of registered goods/services vs. crowdsourced goods/services.

    In terms of the money problem, that is the quality of the product being a function of how much you're willing to pay; I think this is also a problem of value in general. I think we need to find ways in which to rate value that is not monetary.

    In the case of 99designs, you would think that a logo that has more long-term social value may not require as much prize money as compared to other logos for less-beneficial goods/services. But does this actually happen?

  2. Thanks for posting this.

    Clearly the amount of $$ offered is a big factor in the number of designers that participate and the quality of the submission - however - $$ is not the only factor.

    Here are some other things to consider:

    - Clearly describe the project and make the brief easy to read

    - Give encouragement and regular feedback

    - Make the designers feel like they are part of something

    All of these things will lead to more interest from the community.


  3. I am kind of an alien in the IT/CS/Designing field, so I am happy to have learned a new thing or two.

    Just curious, on average how many people dive into a particular crowdsourced project? And for how long, normally? Or, do they know the 'outcome' (i.e. acceptance or rejection of their effort) before finalizing the work?

  4. Steven, I believe crowdsourcing involves a variable number of people. It is opened up to the public and whosoever feels skilled enough to give it a go does so.

    I think they would know their outcome if the project involved long-term work (eg: Linux Ubuntu's Swahili translation project). In the case of "short-term" work, I think the outcomes are not known, but people who do the work know that their work might not get picked (eg: 99designs).