July 24, 2009

Crowdsourcing – Is it another way to devalue creativity?

What is crowdsourcing?
You can’t hear the word crowdsourcing without thinking of outsourcing which has become the word for shipping jobs overseas. Crowdsourcing has become the term used to describe using as many people as possible to get things done as cheap as you can.

The word crowdsourcing was coined by Jeff Howe in a June 2006 Wired magazine article, The Rise of Crowdsourcing, by Jeff Howe. But the act of crowdsourcing has been around for longer than that.

Wikipedia defines crowdsourcing as a neologism for the act of taking a task traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people or community in the form of an open call. For example, the public may be invited to develop a new technology, carry out a design task (also known as community-based design and distributed participatory design), refine or carry out the steps of an algorithm (see Human-based computation), or help capture, systematize or analyze large amounts of data (see also citizen science).

My opinion on crowdsourcing?
In my opinion, crowdsourcing is to the creative industry, e.g. Graphic Design, Photography, what Wal-Mart is to small businesses and customer service.

If you’re a Wal-Mart shopper you might think great, crowdsourcing is going to make Graphic Designers more affordable right? If you don’t care for the big box stores you might wonder if the customer service you have come to love from your graphic designer is going away? The answer to both those questions may be yes.

The pros and cons of crowdsourcing are in the eye of the beholder. If your Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia means less sales, but need to know some information quickly on your phone, or you know something and want to share it easily, it’s great. Istock photo is bad for professional photographers, but great to small businesses with a tiny budget. If you’re a designer the big logo design sites take away your logo work, but need a quick cheap logo and they’re great.

As prices are forced lower by crowdsourcing designers have to spend less time on each task to make the same amount of money. The time it takes to design and build a file won’t change much; so personal contact with the customer is what will suffer.

So how does crowdsourcing affect design?
When I design a logo I talk to my clients, I ask questions to get to know them, the personality of their company or product, and learn whom their target audience is. I consider where the client is in their market, leader or just entering. I consider color psychology and the nature of shapes. When you go to a logo box store site the main question you’re asked is how much do you want to pay? As a designer for big box logo site you have to churn out logos like a machine to make any money. You create a bike shop logo with a bicycle rim in the middle and the next week you swap out the bike rim for a car tire and present it to the next client. I am not saying these are bad designers, on the contrary, I have seen some great logos come out of these shops. However with little to no interaction with the client they are just creating good-looking logos, not necessarily the right logo for your company or product.

What happens from prolonged exposure to this level of design, it becomes normal; just like the lack of customer service and personal attention we have come expect from a big box store. So while crowdsourcing is a great way to get design work done cheap, it may not be a way to get great design work.

Some examples of when crowdsourcing works:
Crowdsourcing News: The Guardian and MP expenses investigation into the MP Expense Scandal in the UK. The newspaper created a system to allow the public to search methodically through 700,000 expense claim documents. Over 20,000 people participated in finding erroneous and remarkable expense claims by Members of Parliament.

Timeline: Steve Fossett disappearance. The search for aviator Steve Fossett, whose plane went missing in Nevada in 2007, in which up to 50,000 people examined high-resolution satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe that was made available via Amazon Mechanical Turk. The search was ultimately unsuccessful. Fosset's remains were eventually located by more traditional means.

The ESP Game by Luis von Ahn (later acquired by Google and renamed Google Image Labeler) was launched in 2004 and gets people to label images as a side-effect of playing a game. The image labels can be used to improve image search on the Web. This game led to the concept of Games with a purpose.

SETI@home is a scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). You can participate by running a free program that downloads and analyzes radio telescope data.

Other things writen about crowdsourcing:
Phantom Captain:
 Art and Crowdsourcing
, by Andrea Grover
The Rise of Crowdsourcing, by Jeff Howe
Is Crowdsourcing Evil? The Design Community Weighs In, by Jeff Howe

1 comment:

Kenton Smith said...

Cheap Logos: Not Worth the Cost