So you’re planning to do business either on the Internet or to use it as an important part of your operations. (Or you’ve already started but you’re trying to figure it all out.) The prospect of building up your brand online and promoting it sounds intimidating. There’s also the question of market research, surveys, etc. It’d be nice to get an idea of what your potential customers might want from you. You want their input, preferably on an ongoing basis.
Now imagine some of your customers acting like business partners, giving you feedback in return for some sort of incentive – be it tangible or intangible. If they’re online influencers, they might even promote you.
That is some of what “crowdsourcing” gives you.
What is Crowdsourcing?
Crowdsourcing isn’t a new concept, but the way it’s now being applied online is relatively new. The essence of crowdsourcing started off in the Open Source movement, where people shared their skills to develop free software. Another facet involves voluntary distributed computing over a network.
For example, a number of scientific applications use the connectivity of the Internet to harness the computers of volunteers. Volunteers give up processing cycles on their computers at times of day that they can specify. The hub application communicates with a desktop application on each computer, each of which get assigned small bites of processing duties. The hub collects
One example is [email protected], which uses volunteers’ computers over the Internet to mass process data collected by radio telescopes in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
With crowdsourcing, the effort of problem solving is spread out amongst people, not necessarily just computers. It’s a sort of democratization of ideas, feedback, creativity, content, problem-solving and more.
The Crowdsourcing blog offers two succinct definitions:
The White Paper Version:
Crowdsourcing is the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.
The Soundbyte Version:
The application of Open Source principles to fields outside of software.
In essence, people interact with a “hub” (person or web application). They might offer opinions, votes, answers, or even share computing resources. Since we’re talking about the Internet as the medium, the crowds are typically global. The definition of crowdsourcing is loose enough that there are a great many actual and potential applications.
Types of Crowdsourcing
Crowdsourcing can be applied in countless ways, depending on the application, the hardware/ gadgets, and the network. Beyond Open Source software and distributed computing, there many uses yet to be discovered. The monetization models are just beginning.
For example, a few clever people have tweaked the crowdsourced debugging model to offer a ready-to-go base of beta testers for software houses. Two examples of this type of service are uTest and TopCoder. They have monetized crowdsourced application debugging by charging software houses for the service and incentivized by paying debuggers. (TopCoder also crowdsources software developers.)
So far, crowdsourcing has been applied to distributed computing, software debugging and coding (Open Source software development). Imagine being able to apply the concept of Kaizen (continuous improvement) to your software development cycle by harnessing users all over the world to help you test and debug?
This concept can be carried forward to applications related to space exploration, environmental modeling and protection, political and social surveying and much more. If distributed computing is brought back into the mix, especially on the mobile platform, crowdsourcing uses are endless.
Trends: The Mobile Internet
The true undiscovered frontier of crowdsourcing will likely be the mobile platform. The potential is enormous, especially given how many people in the world have mobile phones and other PCDs (Personal Communication Devices). Imagine PCDs more powerful than the already popular Apple iPhone. Then imagine them with environmental sensor chips that can measure humidity, environmental temperature, or other factors. RFiD or other short-range communication chips would then transfer data to localized hubs for mass data aggregation over the Internet. (This is a small facet of the coming “Internet of things,” which will likely be facilitated by the even faster Internet to come.)
To wit, one mobile application that has been put forth theoretically is local weather forecasting via hundreds of mobile phones that are part of a crowdsourced pool. These phones would have sensor chips that measure one or more environmental factors and transmit the data to the nearest hub. This data collection only takes place when a request is made to the system, and only to phones voluntarily placed in a crowdsourced pool.
So the weather in a given city could be the average
of the temperature detected by several dozen or several hundred phones around the city. But the weather report query itself might come from a person or application in another city, possibly via a digital mapping app such as Google Maps.
This type of application is part of a new field that can positively impact businesses who are crowdsourcing-aware and work it into their operations strategy.