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Why Crowdsourcing Is Stupid

Category-confusion and the word "Crowdsourcing".

As you might know from some of my previous writing, I've been on a bit of an expedition to uncover the true meaning of "Crowdsourcing".  I'm by no means finished, but I've:

  • Just returned from TopCoder's TCO11 competition, where I spoke with so many people I can't count them all.
  • Read so many web pages, analyst reports, white papers, case studies and PDF documents my eyes hurt.
  • Emailed back and forth with a bunch of people, and worn out more than one battery talking to people over the phone on this topic.

In fact, I just got off the phone not 30 minutes ago with the VP of Marketing at a prominent San Francisco-based "Crowdsourcing" company who gave me an overview of their company, their value proposition, the use cases for their product, etc.

My conclusion: "Crowdsourcing" is stupid.
I don't mean that the ideas are stupid. Or that the business models are stupid. Or what these companies are doing is stupid.

Quite the opposite - I think these companies are on the forefront of some very exciting innovation. Some of the companies that I've spoken with will undoubtedly change the way we do things, and possibly the way we think about things.

What I think is stupid is the term "CROWDSOURCING" - especially as it applies to a category of software products and services.

There is so much confusion surrounding the term "Crowdsourcing". It means completely different things to different people.

If you take a look at all the companies out there that get labelled as "Crowdsourcing" companies, it's really pretty clear that the only similarity these companies have is that there is a "crowd" involved somewhere. Even then, the similarity is pretty tentative as "crowd" means very different things to different companies.

Somehow or another, this category called "Crowdsourcing" got invented, and it's a cool sounding word. How can you not (at least at first glance) like that word?  It is a brilliant word.

As a category though, it's about as useful as the word "food". The word "food" is almost meaningless as a product category:

  • To Gordon Ramsay, something doesn't qualify as "food" unless it hits an exacting level of perfection.
  • To a typical college student, food is entirely different and usually involves pizza, burgers, ramen noodles or cafeteria fare.
  • To a starving child in Bangledesh, food might be anything edible that comes off the U.N. truck.
  • To a "back to the earth Vegan", food might be something that grows in the back yard
  • To the robins that stop by to visit the yard, food means that some unfortunate worm just got eaten.
  • To a fungus, it's dead plants and animals.
  • To a baby, it often comes in a jar and comes from some company like Gerber, and to an infant, it comes from Mommy or from a bottle.
  • I have a pig who hangs out in my back yard - to him, food is pretty much anything including fiberglass insulation, circuit boards and lightbulbs (yes, he's eaten all those things and more to complement his daily regimen of pig chow and vegetables).

So if I decided to form a "food" company, that really wouldn't wouldn't say much about what my company was about, would it?  It would probably just confuse people, and I'd almost be better off not saying anything at all.

So it's no wonder that there is so much confusion about the "Crowdsourcing" market. It's a relatively new space, evolving rapidly, with quite a few vendors who are doing very different things, with totally, even wildly different value propositions.

Hopefully the category-creators out there will start to come up with some labels for what their companies do that stick, so that this category-confusion can subside.

In the meanwhile, I'm working on segmenting this into logical chunks that will (hopefully) make things a bit less confusing - at least for me.  Maybe for you too.

More Stories By Hollis Tibbetts

Hollis Tibbetts, or @SoftwareHollis as his 50,000+ followers know him on Twitter, is listed on various “top 100 expert lists” for a variety of topics – ranging from Cloud to Technology Marketing, Hollis is by day Evangelist & Software Technology Director at Dell Software. By night and weekends he is a commentator, speaker and all-round communicator about Software, Data and Cloud in their myriad aspects. You can also reach Hollis on LinkedIn – linkedin.com/in/SoftwareHollis. His latest online venture is OnlineBackupNews - a free reference site to help organizations protect their data, applications and systems from threats. Every year IT Downtime Costs $26.5 Billion In Lost Revenue. Even with such high costs, 56% of enterprises in North America and 30% in Europe don’t have a good disaster recovery plan. Online Backup News aims to make sure you all have the news and tips needed to keep your IT Costs down and your information safe by providing best practices, technology insights, strategies, real-world examples and various tips and techniques from a variety of industry experts.

Hollis is a regularly featured blogger at ebizQ, a venue focused on enterprise technologies, with over 100,000 subscribers. He is also an author on Social Media Today "The World's Best Thinkers on Social Media", and maintains a blog focused on protecting data: Online Backup News.
He tweets actively as @SoftwareHollis

Additional information is available at HollisTibbetts.com

All opinions expressed in the author's articles are his own personal opinions vs. those of his employer.