CrowdSourcing: Failures and Successes

Geoff Mattie of Project Management Institute published a post asking, “Does Crowdsourcing Work in a Project Environment?” that raises some very valid concerns that indicate to me that he is far sharper than the average bear.

This infographic from 99designs is a good introduction to what crowd-sourcing is (click the image to see the entire infographic):

The Power of Crowdsourcing by 99designs

Click the image to see full infographic

There are different ways to use crowdsourcing. The example used in the infographic of having random people brainstorm solutions could work well, but it has also created crowdsourcing disasters. Other uses though are more problematic especially regarding quality – or lack of it.

The best known and most widely used application of crowdsourcing I know of is Akismet, a spam blocking plugin that is a default in WordPress blogs. What Akismet does – blacklisting the most active and intelligent bloggers’ comments – is an excellent example of crowdsourcing gone wrong.

There are huge issues involved in using crowds as your source for answers. The spam or not spam poll I did illustrates the largest problem with crowd-sourcing. In that poll and the comments it surfaced, it becomes obvious that many people believe they know what comment spam in blogs is but their definitions are all over the map and very surprising.

Some went so far as to say they flag every comment they don’t like or every comment from someone they don’t already know as spam. The beliefs I mention above and that are shown in my poll are what causes Akismet to either send to a spam area – or depending on how the blogger has Akismet configuration set – instantly delete comments from the best regular readers and commentators who frequent blogs I do.

Crowd Sourcing Drawbacks

StyleHop on CrowdSourcing

Most bloggers do not realize that when they flag a comment as spam they are effectively blacklisting and banning that person and preventing their comments from appearing in ALL other WordPress blogs.

If it only kept your comments from appearing in their own blog that would be fine – but that isn’t how Akismet works.

The Akismet problem is so serious – taking away the voices of the most
intelligent and influential – that we developed an Akismet Alternative.

Most people see only what THEY know, believe there is only ONE correct way to do anything, and are sure they are right and everyone else is wrong. They don’t realize there are usually many ways and many opinions based on different backgrounds.

Only those who source their knowledge from large groups of disparate opinions can obtain the big picture. If I were to use crowd-sourcing I would carefully choose my “crowd” depending on what I wanted to know.

If I wanted to develop best practices I would select a “crowd” of the most intelligent, brilliant people I know in that niche area of expertise.

Crowdsourcing

Click Image for Crowdsourcing Successes and Disasters

If I wanted to know what some specific target audience wants to buy I would carefully select only those in that target demographic because anyone else’s opinions would not be valid for that study.

People like me know we are not “normal” and one of the largest hurdles for many business owners to get over is that their target audience is NOT like them. They do NOT know what you know. They are NOT familiar with your industry jargon. They are NOT as passionate about whatever it is you love and do NOTwant to spend their spare time learning all about it. They just want to buy what they want to buy and usually that is whatever the people they follow use or recommend.

The target demographic of most businesses is made up of followers – not leaders. Business owners and managers are usually leaders. These are very different kinds of people just as technical people are usually very poor sales people and those who excel at sales usually do not have strong technical skills. (Yes there are SOME exceptions – brilliant people are often good at a vast range of things – but I have yet to meet anyone who excells at everything.)

Akismet proves to me that crowd-sourcing for blocking spam or blacklisting spammers does NOT work and would only work if they hand-selected the bloggers with wisdom enough to know that only those who are obvious spammers should be banned from commenting – not just those whose opinions you do not like.

Bill Casselman raises many more concerns about CrowdSourcing. His definition?:

Crowdsourcing is getting low-pay or no-pay outside amateurs to do company work.

He continues:

A Business Concept as Old as Suckers

The word crowdsourcing may be new but the concept is as old as P. T. Barnum. You remember P.T? He’s the American sharper who invented the freak show, the department store and the three-ring circus. Barnum’s most famous utterance? “There’s a sucker born every minute, and two to take him.” To which that spry iconoclast H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) added: “No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

He has other objections to uses of crowdsourcing I had not thought of so you may want to head over and read the rest of his diatribe against other types of crowdsourcing.

There is another crowdsourcing disaster on the horizon that could seriously affect Internet users who use Google search. Google recently announced a Chrome Personal Blocklist browser extension add-on that COULD be used to blacklist sites exactly the same way Akismet blacklists bloggers:

“While Personal Blocklist is designed to allow individuals to build up their own unique blocklists, Google says it may use the data to influence the search results for others. From its announcement: “The extension also sends blocked site information to Google, and we will study the resulting feedback and explore using it as a potential ranking signal for our search results.””

While that quote says “potential ranking signal” there is nothing to keep Google from using it to censor Google results. If you are one of the naive who trusts Google implicitly I implore you to read these posts:

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Gail Gardner

Small Business Marketing Strategist at GrowMap
Creator and owner of GrowMap.com, Gail is primarily known for mentoring small businesses and encouraging bloggers to join collaborations to share skills and support small business.

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