I attended a really interesting session at the WebGuild Web 2.0 Conference and Expo last week: The Power of Crowdsourcing - moderated by Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester Research.
Participants on the panel were:
- Aaron Strout, Vice President, New Media, Mzinga
- Michael Sikorsky, CEO, Cambrian House
- Anil Rathi, CEO, Idea Crossing
This was one of the best panel sessions I attended at the conference, part of the reason being the bang-up job Owyang did as moderator. He took a very active role, bringing up provocative questions, directing those at specific members of the panel and not being shy about treading into the concerns and difficulties of using crowdsourcing and social media - this prevented the session from degenerating into a "Rah, Rah, Crowdsourcing is all good!" type of discussion.
The other reason was that the panel members were all knowledgeable, articulate and open in their remarks; the conversation never flagged, as it did with some of the other sessions I attended.
To kick off the session, Owyang put up a few slides entitled Social Technographics that were intriguing, but more on that in a future post.
One of the panelists, Michael Sikorsky of Cambrian House, listed the three legs of crowdsourcing as follows:
- Wisdom, which can be explicit (e.g. voting in American Idol) or implicit (e.g. links used for calculating PageRank)
- Participation, such as item submissions or code check-ins
- Funding, such as a prize or project funding
Based on the discussion at this session, I've compiled the following list of challenges in implementing crowdsourcing solutions and ways of addressing them.
• Wisdom of Crowds: How do you keep the input quality high?
For any crowdsourcing activity, the first step is to pick the right crowd! Equally important, you must ask the right question.
The next step is to use statistical methods to prioritize high-quality input. Finally, a self-policing community (possibly, with some moderation) can help weed out low-quality input and spam.
• Is there an inverse relationship between those who have the time to contribute, and the quality of the ideas presented?
One caveat to keep in mind is that the vocal minority may not be representative of the majority of users. But this type of forum may act as a funnel for identifying talented people who have not yet been discovered.
By providing rewards or incentives consistent with the value of the ideas being submitted, you can get greater participation from qualified users and a higher level of confidence in the quality of the ideas being submitted. Another alternative is to use some type of game mechanism; games have built-in rewards that encourage participation.
• What if some people don't want to be outsourced?
Tara Hunt, of Citizen Agency, recently wrote a blog post titled: Please Stop Crowdsourcing Me , questioning whether crowdsourcing is a good idea. She has a point - some users may not want to contribute or be involved in a crowdsourcing exercise, especially to benefit a large corporation.
The panelists agreed, and pointed out that you should carefully consider which tasks should be outsourced in this way - for example, product users love to help each other out with solving problems and difficulties, but if participants get the feeling that the company is simply using them to reduce customer service costs, then they will stop being helpful.
Any crowdsourcing program has to be thought through and managed carefully; you don't want to risk users having a bad experience.
• How do you manage and lead a crowd, to create a positive experience?
For the community to be truly engaged, it is extremely important for the company to be very transparent.
One key point to think about, especially for large companies, is that you have to be careful about what you share with the crowd. On the one hand, the more you share, the better the ideas you will get; on the other hand, you risk letting out corporate proprietary secrets.
Finally, some activities simply may not be amenable to crowdsourcing.
• How much control do you want to retain? Do you need a Product Manager as an expert?
A community of users can generate a lot of great ideas, but those don't all necessarily fit together; having an expert in place as a product manager can provide guard rails to keep things on track. The product manager can bring a single, unified vision and - this is critical - can communicate back to the community why a particular idea is not being used.
It's important to find a balance: the community generates the ideas, but the company or organization picks the ones to be used, refines them and implements them. Even the nuggets of ideas can be leveraged to create lots of value.
The panelists also offered examples of actual crowdsourcing implementations:
- The Longitude Prize - one of the earliest examples, was a reward offered by the British government through an Act of Parliament in 1714 for a simple and practical method for the precise determination of a ship's longitude.
- Procter & Gamble has raised the level of outside design and significantly increased the success of product-related improvements.
- Intelpedia from Intel, is an example of crowdsourcing in the Enterprise space. The idea is to look internally for ideas, share best practices and preserve common knowledge. According to reports, Intelpedia has up to 20K pages already.
- Ace Hardware created a community for 300 dealers, whose ROI was measured at 500%; as a result, the community was rolled out to all 5000 of its dealers.
- The Hopelab Foundation created a global competition for kids of all ages and received submissions from 429 teams.
- American Idol has produced highly successful artists, some of whom have sold over 10M CDs; even the worst idol winner has sold 500K CDs.
- Innocentive is a well-known example where companies post complex problems and offer rewards for their solutions.
[Update : An alert reader pointed out that the P&G name should be spelled with an "&" - this is now fixed. Thanks, John!]