Will 2009 Be The Year of Crowdsourcing?

5/21/09

Ultra Light Startups is a new meetup group in Boston that holds panel events to discuss concepts, ideas, and models that help startups launch more quickly and cheaply. I organized the first event earlier this May to discuss crowdsourcing and how companies can leverage the model. The following are ideas that emerged from the pitches and the panel discussion.

Crowdsourcing is proving to be a disruptive model that can displace antiquated business practices by utilizing the power of communities. The heart of crowdsourcing lives within a framework of collective, decentralized intelligence that harnesses people’s knowledge to solve problems, build products, predict future outcomes, and direct strategy, among many other benefits. Ultimately, diversity within crowds enables groups to outperform experts. This has already had profound impacts on the businesses using a crowdsourcing model, including companies in the software, design, clothing, and automotive industries.

The Internet has acted as a catalyst for this new model by giving companies access to a pool of highly specialized individuals, but crowdsourcing’s roots are intertwined with those of the open source movement. In Jeff Howe’s book, Crowdsourcing: Why the power of the crowd is driving the future of business, he explains how “the development of the Linux operating system proved that a community of like-minded peers was capable of creating a better product than a corporate behemoth like Microsoft.” The concept of open source has since evolved into other applications across multiple industries. Sharing contributed modules and code enables everyone in the crowd to leverage each other’s work. It’s the power of collective intelligence both within open source and crowdsourcing that enables the group to create something larger than the sum of its parts.

For its first event, Ultra Light Startups brought together the co-founders of Acquia, uTest, Local Motors, and the marketing director of GeniusRocket, for a panel discussion on how startups, and companies in general, can utilize crowdsourcing as a new business model. The startups provided the group with diverse examples of how software testing, automotive design, and marketing content can be crowdsourced, and Acquia (where I work in sales) stood as a testament to crowdsourcing’s shared roots with open source.

So, what is crowdsourcing exactly? Ultimately, it’s the process of defining a problem or task, putting an open call out on the market, and providing an opportunity for members of the crowd to solve that problem in exchange for some level of incentive. Jeff Howe couldn’t have explained the dynamic of crowdsourcing any better: “The best person to do a job is the one who most wants to do that job; and the best people to evaluate their performance are their friends and peers who, by the way, will enthusiastically pitch in to improve the final product, simply for the sheer pleasure of helping one another and creating something beautiful from which they all will benefit.”

Usually, these members of the crowd are compensated in some way. For example, uTest enables software companies to tap its global network of software testers and pays each individual for the bugs they find. Since there are many more testers in uTest’s crowdsourced model than what you’d usually find at a quality assurance firm or internal testing staff, companies are able to receive quicker, less expensive results on a pay-per-performance based model. A company also receives a more … Next Page »

Alex Lindahl works in sales at Acquia, is a co-founder of College Mogul, and the Boston event organizer for Ultra Light Startups. He can be reached at alexjlindahl@gmail.com or 203-449-4207. Follow @

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