TMRE Keynote 2009: Crowdsourcing: Unleashing the Power of Crowds to Unveil Rich Insights

Crowdsourcing: Unleashing the Power of Crowds to Unveil Rich Insights
Jeff Howe, Author, Crowdsourcing

In 2005, Jeff Howe sent a story about MySpace to the Village Voice. MySpace had created a culture with musicians, which lead Jeff Howe to follow the Warped Tour to write a column for Wired Magazine. The Tour is about the music, but features a carnival culture. The Warped Tour kids engaged in amazing creativity throughout a summer tour of 30 bands traveling and playing in a different city every day. They published poetry, web design, paintings. None of the kids defined themselves as one certain thing like “musician” or “artist”. The technology was not the story on the tour, it was what they could do with the technology. Their emphasis was on the products and the processes and how they released their creativity.

When Howe wrote this article, the public’s obsession for user generated content was immense, but he realized that people were missing was the larger tectonic shift, which were the underlying dynamics of different shapes and sizes and reality. Howe needed something that would capture not just the media, but all industries. He wanted to find a way to outsource to the crowd. The column, Crowdsoucing, was first published in June 2006. It came into use first with technology, but then branched out. There was a fundamental shift beneath the surface between consumers and producers.

Crowdsourcing was not a strategy designed by academics, instead it was an accident. Two friends came together and created a shirt design business, the designs were voted on by the Internet users. This way, you don’t have to be a designer to be a part of the system, but just like designs. Threadless came about this way. You have to give users tasks that take less than a minute to accomplish. They started this business because they loved people and wanted to share it with other users. It’s a global community, and the shirts are sold to individuals around the world.

A key to Threadless was they get free marketing. Via street teams, users posting images of their shirts, in addition to personal designs from the users. They also see what consumers want. They have an ‘I’d Buy It’ box. They know which shirts will sell. They’ve never had overstock or sold out due to this function.

Another example: stock photos. This is a photo that’s already been commissioned by a person to take, then same photo over and over again for promotional purposes. The creator opened his own site where he uploaded his stock photos, and let others download them as long as they uploaded their own. This popular service exceeded what he could pay to. Bruce charged people to post images, and others began to realize the the value. You could download a picture for $300 or $.25. The model worked. Today it’s known as Getty Images.

The Cardinal Rule of Crowdsoucing is: Ask not what your community can do for you ‘ Ask what You Can Do For Your Community.

One member of the audience posed the question “How can businesses build their own communities to create these items?” Howe responded communities came together because they were being offered something, the crowd was being offered something. For example, if you are a grocery store, give the community a way to see if you have things in stock, give them specific coupons that apply to your users, etc.