We all know about outsourcing, the ability to farm out work to people, often overseas, that will work for less, and sometimes for a lot less. But a not-so-new trend is changing the way that outsourcing happens, called crowdsourcing.
The idea is to take a job and divide it into small enough pieces that someone can do it quickly in their spare time. Think about transcribing an audio recording. Or Photoshopping a series of photographs. The difference between regular outsourcing and crowdsourcing is that you don’t necessarily know your contractors, and they mostly are here in the good ole U S of A. Think of it as stimulus package for our troubled times, but based entirely on the private sector.
The idea isn’t all that new, but is catching on due to some important trends. First off, there is a critical mass of people who are willing to do the work, and probably more people are going to be interested because of high unemployment over the past year. Second, the Internet-based tools that are used to farm out jobs and track completions and manage the crowds is getting better all the time. Broadband penetration helps: now most people don’t do dial-up, which is great if you are going to be online for hours at a time working the crowd-based tasks. Finally, many crowds have developed a solid track record, so it is more compelling for project managers looking for workers.
As a result, crowdsourcing is big business. There are several dozen firms that help organize the crowds of people that offer up their services, and some of them are making millions of dollars a year in fees that they collect from being brokers between buyer and provider. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and eLance.com are two of the more well-known ones, and if you want to find out others I suggest you first listen to my podcast with my partner Paul Gillin and Brent Frei, the author of one of the first industry reports on crowdsourcing. You can find the links to his report and our podcast if you go to: http://MediaBlather.com/103.html
Frei runs a company that provides crowdsourcing, so it isn’t too difficult to see his self-interest. But the report opened my eyes to see the power and the promise behind the idea. For example, you can leverage your own billable time by farming out tedious tasks to someone else that would gladly do it for a lot less than your rates. Or compiling a list of vendors by doing online research of their Web sites. With a $10/hour intern, this project would have taken 12 hours or $120 to complete the task. By divvying it up among a crowd, Frei was able to get it done for about $18 total.
Now, I know what you are going to say. How can you ensure quality of the crowd-based researchers? What about the time and cost to manage them? There are ways to build in redundancy and have the results cross-checked, and with the right kind of project management, you can piece things apart in such a way that makes sense for your crowd.
Paul and I have been doing our MediaBlather podcasts for several years, and always on the lookout for someone interesting to interview, particularly on social media and new marketing tools. If you are interested in being on our show, let us know.