The Tantalizing Crowdsourcing Model | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Crowdsourcing is a tantalizing business model. It leverages access to free or very cheap labor through technology platforms or through social media. We see examples of it, and we sense intuitively that they have broader application. So why does it seem to be just out of reach for most services firms? Why do service providers struggle when trying to apply this model to their business?

There are several highly successful, intriguing examples of crowdsourcing.

  • Uber’s technology platform allows individuals to collaborate and coordinate to provide a transportation service that is different from traditional taxi and limo services.
  • Trip Advisor’s platform relies on individuals reporting and rating their travel experiences. The result is a superb way to better understand the kind of service you’re likely to get at a bed and breakfast, hotel or restaurant.
  • IT Central Station puts crowdsourcing to work providing user reviews of software.
  • Urban Spoon provides crowdsourced restaurant reviews from diners and critics.

Wikipedia is also a great example of the power of crowdsourcing. The success of these and other businesses tantalizes us with the model. But it’s a radically different model and it’s frustrating to try to apply a crowdsourcing capability to most businesses. Here are some of the issues that make it difficult to develop this kind of business:

  • It requires different philosophies about sourcing information such as reliability of the information and using information from multiple sources rather than a high-quality, expert single source. Crowdsourcing businesses rely on people who are motivated to share information that helps others or makes them appear to be an expert.
  • It requires scale advantages before it’s useful.
  • It often necessitates change in security as well as intellectual property rights.

Resolving these issues is really hard to do under the constraints of an existing organization.

Most, if not all, crowdsourcing businesses evolved without being inside an existing organization and thus having to navigate the concerns and insecurities of the existing organization. They were built from the ground up, which allowed them to resolve or iterate through these issues and come up with a complete working model that was then usable.

To avoid the tantalizing call of revenue from crowdsourced platforms, we need to study crowdsourcing‘s successes and learn how to duplicate them in our normal services businesses.


Photo credit: Flickr

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