When Paid Crowdsourcing Hits the Mainstream: A Report and Online Panel

9/16/09Follow @b_frei

Sometimes the only way to flush out the truth on something is to state an opinion and spark a discussion. Using on-demand workers has been around for over 10 years, but there are precious few resources available for someone to get educated. Hopefully my report will stimulate discussion and bring a greater level of awareness to the paid crowdsourcing market.

Let’s look at crowdsourcing’s evolution this decade:

* Wikipedia started the revolution

* Jeff Howe coined the term crowdsourcing

* Elance and Guru made it into sophisticated electronic marketplaces

* Amazon’s Mechanical Turk turned it into a computing platform

* Kermit Pattison writes prolifically about it

* John Winsor’s company does creative things with it

* 50+ companies provide products and services designed to bring it to the everyday business person

So after 10 years and more than two million workers getting paid half a billion dollars for work online, where is the Gartner Magic Quadrant, or the Forrester Wave Diagram, or the TechCrunch Top 50 list?

The novelty of free crowdsourcing (getting something useful done by the masses for nothing) has been the romantic aspect most often studied and written about. “Free” differs from paid crowdsourcing in that free work gets accomplished only if it’s entertaining, emotionally fulfilling, or leads to recognition. The less sexy and decidedly more complex “paid” cousin, which uses money as leverage to generate results, has been more of a mystery. Ask 10 business managers whether they’ve used on-demand workers through an online service, and nine will cock their head like a lab that just heard a dog whistle.

Paid crowdsourcing can find a useful metaphor in e-commerce’s 15-year rise from cutting edge to preferred shopping mechanism. Want a book today? We don’t send our intern to the store to buy it. We go to Amazon, search on the book title, add it to our cart, insert our credit card information, and submit. One or two days later, we receive our book. Why is online commerce so mainstream now? There are many reasons, but primarily:

1. Huge on-demand selection—it’s an instantly available inventory with reviews and details

2. Saves time and effort—no travel logistics

3. Satisfactory results—we get what we expect

4. Best price—it’s likely the best price available

5. Secure and private—we are confident that our personal information is secure and private

It stands to reason that shopping for work done via an online on-demand workforce would need to meet these same criteria to become mainstream. Forward progress toward broad adoption of paid crowdsourcing has been battling 6 main foes:

1. Crowd responsiveness—someone must do my work quickly, no matter how mundane

2. Ease of use—I can utilize this online with less hassle than instructing an intern, and without requiring training or technical abilities

3. Satisfactory results—the results I get back must be right

4. Cost advantage—it must be more inexpensive than the alternatives

5. Security & privacy—my business information must be kept autonomous if I choose

6. Resistance of the inefficient markets—my company will not incite the wrath of the more traditional deliverers of this kind of service

Huge progress against this gang of 6 has moved several vendors of crowdsourced work closer to becoming mainstream business utilities. Companies like CastingWords (audio transcription), Elance (find, hire, manage and pay contractors online), Smartsheet (general work crowdsourcing), and 99Designs (logo design) are approaching the crowdsourcing market’s sweet spot from different, but very viable, directions.

Our Smartsheet team has produced a full-fledged report detailing the paid crowdsourcing space, and has organized an expert panel to debate it online. Wikipedia’s general definition of an expert is “a person with extensive knowledge or ability based on research, or occupation, and in a particular area of study.” Until someone comes along to unseat us, I guess we’re the definitive experts.

Join the Paid Crowdsourcing Expert Panel webinar (www.smartsheet.com/crowdwork) this Thursday, September 17, at 9:00 am Pacific Time to hear from the experts on where this space is headed and how you can participate.

Attendees will receive a copy of the Paid Crowdsourcing Research Report.

Brent Frei is the co-founder and executive chairman of Bellevue, WA-based Smartsheet.com, an online work management software company. Follow @b_frei

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  • http://www.zintro.com Stuart Lewtan

    Very interesting article. My new business Zintro (www.zintro.com) is, perhaps, the newest entry into the “paid crowdsourcing” space. Using a crowdsourced model, Zintro connects professionals making high value (e.g. investment, market analysis, risk assessment, purchasing, technology selection, hiring…) decisions with experts in the field for fee based consults. Experts and clients are welcome to take their consulting relationships outside of Zintro after the initial consult (for which the client pays a modest markup on the expert’s rate). It leverages technology and the broad reach of the Internet to create an on-line meeting place for those who value information enough to pay for it and those who are worthy of being paid for it. Feel free to visit the site http://www.zintro.com or contact me directly slewtan@zintro.net for more information.

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