In 2013, there was an infamous story which reported how a US employee with a six figure salary was sacked when it came to light that he spent his entire working day browsing the web and watching YouTube videos. But his idleness was not discovered for many months because he’s work was still being done. What makes this story extraordinary was that the resourceful software developer had outsourced his entire workload to a company in China at a cost of around one fifth of his salary.
Unsurprisingly, the man is no longer with the company but perhaps he had identified something of great value to the company; how they could get the same work done for a fraction of the cost. Perhaps if I were his boss, I would have slapped his wrist but then given him a brand new job: VP of Crowdsourcing.
The Benefits of Crowdsourcing
Rather than hire an employee or freelancer, crowdsourcing allows tasks to submitted to a crowd of people with the relevant skills to undertake the work remotely. Crowdsourcing provides access to a genuinely global market of suitable resource. And as we’ll soon see, it can be used to provide businesses with a wide variety of different services; from creative assistance, to the repetitive and mundane. And when it comes to what works well on a website and what doesn’t, it’s fair to say that the opinions of many, outweigh the opinions of the few. In his book The Wisdom of Crowds James Surowiecki also makes the case that the many, make better decisions than the few.
A crowdsourcing approach to resourcing is highly flexible, scalable, cost efficient and geographically agnostic. The creative and subjective work that is required on a web project can have input from tens if not hundreds of people and can be arranged at very short notice. My own experience of using a crowd for creative input has always been very rewarding. More than once, a comment from a random, anonymous stranger in the crowd has stopped me in my tracks and turned me in a new direction. When working within a small, close team, it’s hard to think of an alternative way to gain such useful insights from any other source. But don’t be fooled into thinking that crowdsourcing is a magic solution. To work, the power of the crowd requires it to be harnessed, well managed and sifted through, in order that it pays off. One of the challenges is how to deal with so much input or feedback.
Sometimes, the crowdsourcing means a recruitment process that is run as a competition where many multiples of candidates make their submissions. This is certainly the case for crowdsourcing ideas, solutions, opinions and subjective design work. The decision making still remains in the same place, the difference being that the variety and quantity of options made available is on a completely different scale. Do you choose what you feel is the best option? Or, do you go with the average or most popular option?
What can be Crowdsourced?
There is an ever growing list of things that can be crowdsourced. So too, are there many crowdsourcing platforms that are designed to find, qualify and manage the crowdsourcing process.
With a particular focus on tasks frequently needed when building or running a website, here are some activities that can be crowdsourced;
Funding – If a web project needs funding before it start, especially if it’s an innovative project, then there is a number of crowdfunding platforms available. Crowdfunding sites assist businesses to raise small to medium amounts of investment capital from small investments being made by a large number of people. There are a number of platforms that provide this service the most well known are probably Kickstarter.com and Indiegogo.com.
Design – Submit a design brief for logos and website pages to the crowd and receive design suggestions from multiple designers. Typically the process involves narrowing down the submissions to a shortlist and then deciding on a single preferred design. Such design crowdsourcing platforms are CrowdSpring and 99Designs.com.
Testing – Getting feedback on your website from a large number of anonymous people can be invaluable. You can quickly receive concise comments from a crowd at FeedbackArmy.com. For more comprehensive, in-depth feedback on the design and usability of your website, you can receive narrated, video commentaries from people actually using your website from UserTesting.com
Data Services – If you have a large amount of data that needs to be cleaned, tagged or categorized, crowdsourcing may be the answer to solve a huge, monotonous job. CrowdSourceMechanical Turk (US Only), and LionBridge can help.
Freelancers – A wide range of jobs that will help you to build and run a website can be found by submitting what you need for a crowd to respond. The jobs and be small, big, short or ongoing. The kind of services that can be provided are copywriting, SEO, social media marketing etc. In fact, the list of tasks that can be crowdsourced to freelancers is endless. There are many to choose from and some examples are oDesk.com, Elance.com and PeoplePerHour.com.
This list is only the tip of the iceberg as far as what you might wish to crowdsource when building and running a website. A larger directory of crowdsourcing platforms is available on the crowdsourcing.org website.
Although crowdsourcing can be extremely useful and cost effective, there are some challenges and risks that you should be aware of. When you’re dealing with an unknown entity to carry out some work it needs to be well managed. The available platforms do a good job at connecting us with crowds, but we still need to provide management oversight to ensure the job goes well. As the management maxim says, you need delegate the task but not the responsibility”.
Done properly, crowdsourcing is still hard work. For example, in the case of crowdsourcing website design, giving plenty of feedback on the submitted designs means that you’re more likely to get the best result in the end. Getting the quality you want is also something that must be carefully considered. I’ve found that crowdsourcing a small sample of the work to be done first and assessing the quality of the results works best. Then when you’re happy with the quality, you can outsource the entire piece of work.
What work on a website have you crowdsourced and how well did it work out?