Critiques of Crowdsourcing

First, Chris Grams of Shareable gives two reasons why he objects to crowdsourcing as a concept. This is followed by a collage of similarly critical citations:

1. “Crowdsourcing” imposes a manufacturing mindset rather than a community or social mindset.

Often when I hear companies talking about how they are going to “crowdsource” a product, I feel like crowdsourcing is the answer to the question “How could I make this faster/cheaper/better?”

Great communities are not factories. They are social creations. Their power source is emotion and passion.

I think you can build community crowdsourcing factories, filled with people working as machines– many folks have been successful with this model. But the power source that drives contributors in this model is probably going to be money (maybe recognition– or the hope of recognition, more likely). Which means contributors will be loyal to whomever offers the next paycheck, not to a big dream or mission.

Crowdsourcing factories will attract mercenaries and nomads, not believers and members.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the concept of user-driven or community-driven innovation (I have spent 10 years of my life working inside an open source company, after all). I just dislike the thought of communities that are factories first.

Great communities are mission and beliefs first. And if those beliefs create an efficient factory as a side effect, as has happened in the open source movement, all the better.

2. “Crowdsourcing” abstracts, maybe even insults, the role of the individual creator.

Great communities are often meritocracies, where the best ideas win. Over the years, some folks have erroneously compared the open source movement to socialism. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Open source is not about people becoming part of a collective and creating a collective good for the sake of all. It is about people with selfish interests finding others with similar selfish interests and realizing they could get more work done more quickly by working together.

The “crowd” part of the word crowdsourcing makes me think that crowdsourcing advocates view the community as a Borg-for-hire. A hive-like organism with one collective brain. It puts the person or company that wants a “crowd” to “source” something in charge.

In a meritocracy, individuals — collaborating on a common cause — are in charge. If all people remember from a crowdsourced project is the idea, and the person or group of people who collaborated to create that idea are forgotten, I think this is a shame.

In a meritocracy, power should be held by the people who have shown that they tend to have the best ideas over time. We need to make sure that the individual heroes don’t get lost in the crowdsourcing Borg.”

Other critiques:

* How Crowdsourcing differs from Community

Cam Balzer, the Threadless VP of Marketing:

“Crowdsourcing is antithetical to what we’re doing. That’s because crowdsourcing involves random sets of people who suddenly have a say in how the business works, but that’s not how Threadless operates. We’ve got a close-knit group of loyal customers and have worked hard to build that. The people who submit ideas to us, vote and buy our products aren’t random people, and they aren’t producing random work. We work closely with our consumers and give them a place on our site, the Threadless forum, where they can exchange ideas with one another–ideas that go beyond designing T-shirts. We have consumers who have voted on 150,000 designs, which means they’ve spent hours interacting on our site. People who do that aren’t jumping into a random crowd. They’re part of the community we’ve cultivated.”

* Hugh McGuire on how it differs from community production:

“Apart from the unfortunate outsourcing connotation, crowdsouring completely misses this point (which is something I have thought a lot about at LibriVox):

that what goes *in* is more important than what comes *out*.

crowdsourcing sounds like it is about extracting resources from a crowd (like a strip mine, exploiting resources)… when in fact the real power (and beauty) is in creating a community that wants to contribute *into* something.

I think you will find common elements that crowdsourcing doesn’t catch:

1. people want to contribute to the public sphere (with idealist motivations)
2. participating in the project becomes a highly social, almost family-like activity

in short, the opposite of crowd, and the opposite of sourcing”

* How Citizen Science Differs from Crowdsourcing, by Yale-based astrophysicist and Galaxy Zoo founder Kevin Schawinski:

“We prefer to call this [Galaxy Zoo] citizen science because it’s a better description of what you’re doing; you’re a regular citizen but you’re doing science. Crowd sourcing sounds a bit like, well, you’re just a member of the crowd and you’re not; you’re our collaborator. You’re pro-actively involved in the process of science by participating.”

On comparisons between Galaxy Zoo and [email protected], [email protected], etc., etc., etc.:

“Galaxy Zoo volunteers do real work. They’re not just passively running something on their computer and hoping that they’ll be the first person to find aliens. They have a stake in science that comes out of it, which means that they are now interested in what we do with it, and what we find.”

* and finally, here is my own summary on how it differs from peer production:

Peer production is defined by:

– voluntary engagement

– a participatory process

– universal access property regimes

– there is no direct link between input and output (non-reciprocal character of peer production)

Most corporate-driven crowdsourcing will only apply the very first principle, i.e. voluntary engagement; they will aim to drive the production process; and the results will be proprietary. Finally, they will introduce payment or Revenue Sharing schemes. In terms of the hierarchy of engagement, crowdsourcing is more akin to swarming than to the collective intelligence of an intentional community.

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