Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Crowdsourcing: Ingenuity or pure laziness?

In #change11 we are being challenged to examine collective learning with a focus on how we learn. As one who comes from the business sector and not that of the academic sector, I can’t help but synthesis how this applies within my given context.

Many companies have turned to crowdsourcing in their research and development of products or services. I have seen numerous academics do likewise (although they have not called it “crowdsourcing”).

Crowdsourcing is defined by crowdsourcing.org as: “Crowdsourcing is sometimes otherwise referred to as Mass Collaboration, Open Innovation, Community Production, Mass Solutions, Constituent Driven Innovation, Connected Intelligence, Collective Wisdom, Intelligent networks and Human Networks. Crowdsourcing is the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to a large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open invite (call).”

I can’t help but to question if we - as corporations- are truly listening to the voices of the public (be it those of the employees of the corporation or the public at large) or are we merely being complacent and use crowdsourcing as a means of pacification- of giving the public a “feeling” that their voices are being heard?

Are we using the suggestions of the public?

Are we using crowdsourcing as a “solution” for cutting back our expenditures and thus cut back on our staff (be it consultants or others) and the human values that employees bring to our corporation?  

Are we trying to become everything to everyone and in the process lose sight of the foundations and the values upon which our corporations were built upon and their raison d’ĂȘtre?

Are we become data miners and stealers of innovations or are we truly becoming creative?

Is crowdsourcing yet another excuse for laziness (I don’t have to think/ be creative because someone else will think it/ design it for me)?

Sure, there are many great examples in the industry of cases where crowdsourcing is beneficial. But what seems to stand out in these positive attributions to crowdsourcing are:
  • Clearly defining who the “crowd” is.
  • Clearly defining and properly managing the derivatives of the crowdsourcing so they are incorporated, rejected, or used as a further springboard.
  • Recognizing the contributions.

My greatest personal concern is: what are the parameters of intellectual property when we participate in crowdsourcing? Do we as contributors (especially the public at large) give up our right or do the corporations automatically own it? Who gets the rights to the “next best-thing-next-to-sliced-bread”?



  1. Several of your comments are very insightful (in my opinion). I am not in the business sector so I cannot confirm most of what you say. I do wonder if crowdsourcing could not be seen as a money saver. It decreases the organization's dependency on content experts, both in the creation of new concepts/products and as a knowledge archive. The current trend is that employees will work for multiple companies over their professional career. Your comment about attribution is key here. It is much weaker to say I was part of a group discussion that led to the development of an idea. So how does my participation in a crowdsourced creation become part of future applications?

  2. The question on intellectual property needs attention. I think the copyright laws will change this century because of these questions.
    I wonder how one can define who is (in) the crowd, because a crowd is not defined and has no clear borders. I think i did not understand this part of your blog?