Crowdsourcing, outsourcing in disguise?
Posted by: Gratterpalm
Date added: Wed 05 Oct 2011
In fact, open calls to work for an employer on a non-permanent basis, go back as far as the crusades, when mercenaries would sign up as ‘freelancers’ to fight more for the fee, than a belief in the cause.
When Jeff Howe came up with the phrase, it was based on the concept that because crowd sourcing is an open invitation to an undefined group of people, it gathers those who are most fit to perform the task, solve complex problems and contribute the most relevant and fresh ideas.
In areas such as software development and other technical fields, this may well be the case when a specific solution to a specific problem is needed, particularly those that require trial and error to solve them, it’s obvious that more heads will yield better results than one. Also, if payment is given only to those who are deemed to have solved the problem, then this can also be a very cost-effective solution.
However, when applied to more ill-defined areas such as finding creative ideas and design solutions, crowdsourcing, while becoming increasingly popular, is more about attaching a popular term to a method that has been practised for many years. Creative agencies have always outsourced creative ideas and design solutions to supplement their own creative departments.
Normally when there is a new pitch, during holiday season or at times when the creative director thinks they need a fresh set of eyes on a problem, businesses will outsource the work from a pool of freelancers that are already known to the agency.
Now if this practice has been working successfully for many years, what has happened to change it? The answer is the Internet. Instead of only having a few local people available to work on a task, suddenly through web applications, allowing briefs to be posted on crowdsourcing websites businesses can have a thousand freelancers, from every corner of the world - each and every one of them prepared to work on a brief free of charge unless one of their ideas is chosen – utopia right? Well not necessarily.
Just like the kid in the sweet shop who finds itself spoilt for choice and therefore not being able to decide on anything, I’m not sure that having millions of answers to a brief is always the best way of finding the right one.
By the time the rubbish has been sifted through, I think it would be easier if the job had been briefed out to a selected few.
Victors & Spoils, the American ad agency that bills itself as the first advertising agency based on crowdsourcing principles, boasts a virtual creative department of six thousand. Yet the client service team, the strategy writers and the creative directors are the owners, because presumably it’s difficult to build up a relationship with a client if the account director or the creative director changes every week.
To be fair, Victors & Spoils do put briefs on its website and openly invite creatives who have registered with them to pitch on the job, but it also has tasks that are assigned only to selected teams. Presumably these are the teams that the creative directors have confidence to crack the problem; if not, why wouldn’t all tasks be crowdsourced?
Which brings me back to my original point. Perhaps Victors & Spoils used crowdsourcing originally as a way of testing crowds of creatives, if only to help it decide who best to ‘outsource’ the work from.
image - © alma_sacra - Fotolia.com
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