Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why I don't like crowdsourcing

To put it bluntly, to my ear "crowdsourcing" sounds like "flock milking". I don't like the term and I don't even like the concept it stands for. But there's more than what I personally like or dislike. I believe that this concept is not going to survive for too long. It will be operational in the transition period between the old and the new economy, mainly instantiated in corporate activities, as corporations try to utilise the new technology to their advantage. But it will gradually fade away as open value networks will replace closed hierarchies.

See history of the term and concept on Wikipedia.

In fact, we can see that this concept evolved from outsourcing, which is part of the old language, with a well defined meaning within the old paradigm. Outsourcing is in fact externalizing some processes, which implies a clear boundary between in and out, between us and them. Moreover, this externalization is NOT a symmetrical relation, the outsourceE has an information disadvantage and is sometimes economically dependent on the outsourceR.

Crowdsourcing comes from the realization that companies (i.e. closed and hierarchical (feudal) organizations) can use the new technology to coordinate input from a very large number of entities, including a mass of individuals, the crowd. The relation remains asymmetrical between the outsourceR, a closed, intrinsically individualistic organization and the outsourceE. The only thing that changes is the nature of the outsourceE. Instead of being one entity (individual or organization) executing a particular set of tasks, it is now an informal group of individuals, the crowd. In the eyes of the outsourceR the role of the outsourceE is the same. Although the different nature of the outsourceE forces the outsourceR to slightly modify its practices.

There are two important patterns of crowdsourcing
  1. A company creating and maintaining it's own crowd for harvesting - the case of FIAT and its Mio project
  2. A web-based company offering a matchmaking service between companies' needs and the crowd - http://www.ideaken.com/   
In both cases, the crowdsourcing concept supposes a powerful entity (the outsourceR or the matchmaking service provider), which has some advantage (informational, logistical, financial, economical...) over the crowd, and the crowd, which is seen here as disorganized but  resourceful. It is implicitly assumed that this powerful entity is necessary to channel potential out of the crowd. In other words, the crowd alone is seen as incapable of producing a coherent output. For that matter, and for others too, it seams justified for this powerful entity, acting as a center of analysis and coordination, to keep the biggest part of the reward/revenues and to reward the crowd just enough.

When it comes to motivation, there is a fundamental difference between outsourcing and crowdsourcing. The outsourceR has more influence over the outsourceE than over each individual in the crowd. Moreover, negative incentive doesn't work on the crowd. The outsourceR must become seductive, attractive and must give something in return, something that the crowd likes. In some cases the crowd asks for the knowledge behind the product to be public, and this leads to a variety of open innovation and open products. This variety of open innovation is not based on altruistic sharing. It is very individualistic, based on the realization that hyper-innovation (which is unleashed by crowdsourcing) is economically more viable than a defensive tactic based on intellectual property protection.

Structurally speaking, a crowdsourcing network is highly centralized.

The multitude movement that we are observing is a movement that empowers the individual. We are all waking up realizing that we have power as individuals AND as groups. We are also realizing that power relations are not necessary anymore to organize ourselves into large and productive/efficient groups, if we have at our disposal effective means of communication and coordination. Hence the growing tendency to form decentralized networks rather than hierarchies. In fact, it is possible for a decentralized value network to self-structure and to produce a very complex output. We don't need that powerful entity to analyze and coordinate action. That entity has lost its power, because it doesn't play a necessary and irreplaceable role anymore. That entity is still strong today, because it still has under its control important assets and capacity of production. But these things are now being transferred to the crowd. So we don't need a corporation to milk the crowd anymore. The crowd can deliver by itself.

SENSORICA, the open value network that we are setting up, is an example of a system centered around the individual and its capacity to work in collaboration. SENSORICA is not an entity exploiting the crowd, it is the crowd creating solutions for its own problems. It's mode of production is commons-based peer production (Yochai Benkler).

Open source communities don't "source" the crowd, they are the crowd working in collaboration to produce something, one entity, one system. They are not lead by any other entity. They are self-oriented and self-governed entities.

So let's make it clear, crowdsourcing and commons-based peer production are two very different things!

By t!b!   AllOfUs


  1. It would be interesting to hear you comment on the "Arab spring" and how decentralized political movements can arise in networked groups.

  2. Hi,

    I have find your blog really it is nice. You have described crowdsourcing, it is a powerful entity, which has some advantage (informational, logistical, financial, economical...) over the crowd, and the crowd, which is seen here as disorganized but potent or resourceful. You can also distribute your thoughts and experience on Crowdsourcing