What crowdsourcing really means and why we shouldn’t like it

Excerpted from Tiberius Brastaviceanu :

“To put it bluntly, to my ear “crowdsourcing” sounds like “flock milking”. I don’t like the term and I don’t even like the concept it stands for. But there’s more than what I personally like or dislike. I believe that this concept is not going to survive. It simply doesn’t match with the multitude movement. It will be operational in the transition period between the old and the new economy, mainly instantiated in corporate activities, as they try to take advantage, in their own logic, of the new technology. But it will gradually fade away as open value networks will replace closed hierarchies.

See history of the term and concept in Wikipedia.

In fact, we can see that this concept evolved from outsourcing, which is part of the old language, with a well defined meaning within the old paradigm. Outsourcing is in fact externalizing some processes, which implies a clear boundary between in and out, between us and them. Moreover, this externalization is NOT a symmetrical relation, the outsourceE has an information disadvantage and is sometimes economically dependent on the outsourceR.

Crowdsourcing came from the realization that companies (i.e. closed and hierarchical (feudal) organizations) can use the new technology to coordinate input from a very large number of entities, including a mass of individuals. The relation remains asymmetrical between the outsourceR, a closed, intrinsically individualistic organization and the outsourceE. The only thing that changes is the nature of the outsourceE. Instead of being one entity (individual or organization) executing a particular task, it is now an informal group of individuals, the crowd. In the eyes of the outsourceR the role of the outsourceE is the same. But the different nature of the outsourceE forces the outsourceR to slightly modify its practices.

The crowdsourcing concept supposes a powerful entity (the outsourceR ), which has some advantage (informational, logistical, financial, economical…) over the crowd, which is seen here as disorganized but potent or resourceful. It is implicitly assumed that this powerful entity is necessary to channel potential out of the crowd. In other words, the crowd alone is seen as incapable of producing a coherent output, it needs this entity as a center of analysis and coordination. For that matter, and for others too, it seams justified for this powerful entity to keep the biggest part of the reward/revenues and to reward the crowd just enough.

When it comes to motivation, there is a fundamental difference between outsourcing and crowdsourcing. The outsourceR has more influence over the outsourceE than over each individual in the crowd. Moreover, negative incentive doesn’t work on the crowd. The outsourceR must become seductive, attractive and must give something in return, something that the crowd likes. In some cases the crowd asks for the knowledge behind the product to be public, and this leads to a variety of open innovation and open products. This variety of open innovation is not based on altruistic sharing. It is very individualistic, based on the realization that hyper-innovation (which is unleashed by crowdsourcing) is economically more viable than a defensive tactic based on intellectual property protection.

Structurally speaking, a crowdsourcing network is highly centralized.”

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