Crowdsourcing:a game changer

Crowdsourcing is a game changer

(views expressed are personal)

Roopen Roy

The marvels of technology, the shrinking of distances and virtual platforms of collaboration have unleashed the power of crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is a term that was coined back in 2006 by writer Jeff Howe for a Wired magazine article. Although the concept was far from new, the term was just off-the-mint. Crowdsourcing is the act of sending out tasks that are normally performed by an individual to a group of people. The idea is that more minds and hands are better than one and collaboration creates innovation. It dramatically reduces costs,cycle time and unleashes creativity.We have seen the power of collaboration in Wikipedia. It is one of the best known examples of the concept of crowdsourcing at work. Thousands of Wikipedia users have created an encyclopedia that is as accurate and comprehensive as traditional ones like Britannica We have seen how collaboration using social media, mobile technologies and the internet converted sparks of muted dissent into the prairie fire of revolt in Arab countries euphemistically called The Arab Springs.

How is virtual collaboration altering the business landscape? In his seminal article that coined the term here is what Jeff Howe said, “Crowdsourcing has virtually overnight generated huge buzz, enthusiasm, and fear. It's the application of the open-source idea to any field outside of software, taking a function performed by people in an organization, such as reporting done by journalist, research and product development by scientists, or design of a T-shirt, for example, and in effect outsourcing it through an open-air broadcast on the Internet. Crowdsourcing has already had a huge impact on large corporations such as Proctor & Gamble.” - Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business by Jeff Howe.

Crowdsourcing is profoundly impacting nations. Iceland has decided to change the original constitution based on suggestions posted by its 320,000 citizens via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. CNN Host, Editor-at-large at TIME Magazine Fareed Zakaria, recently committed the heresy of suggesting the U.S. Constitution be amended based on similarly crowdsourced suggestions from the American citizens. By the same token, the Lokpal Bill has been caught in the web of high decibels, political overtones, hunger strikes and media frenzy. How about using a crowdsourcing approach to the issue? The aam admi-the real citizens- and not just their self-appointed spokespersons could participate in shaping the law through crowdsourcing ? The “crowd” could include constitutional experts, students of law and ordinary citizens who have a smart idea.Of course the parliament will pass the bill into legislation.

Business, whether global or local, large or small can no longer ignore the potential or power of crowdsourcing. The objective of collaboration can be to co-create a product or service with designers, customers and marketing people working together using an easily accessible, open platform. In essence, crowdsourcing wil tap into a world of ideas and creations. You “outsource” to a diverse crowd. You may not even know who may be part of this “crowd” and you may not have any connection or prior relationship with some of the key participants. Weather forecasting and traffic reporting are widely using crowdsourcing by reaching out to the public to call a toll-free number or log on to a website and report events. Journalists and newshounds are using crowdsourcing to great effect.Because “volunteering” is at the heart of crowdsourcing , a short-sighted view would be to focus on “kar-seva” or free labour aspect of the concept. Increasingly, business models are emerging whereby participants of crowd-sourcing can be compensated through direct payments or a share of revenues.

In India there are many examples of crowdsourcing.Three Goan entrepreneurs have started a crowdsourcing application called Foodlets. Foodlets posts and shares pictures of food from restaurant menus. Foodlets ( is an exciting new way for people to discover good food and connect with foodies. It is based on the core concepts of content co-creation and sharing. People can create foodlets and share with friends, they can affirm the food they have eaten and loved, and tell their experiences about a particular dish. Alternatively restaurant owners can create visual menus and engage with their patrons Tourists can now see more than a 1000 dishes from some of the best restaurants in Goa before planning their next holiday. These include local specialities such as Chicken Cafreal, Squid Calamari, Bebinca, Xacuti, Sorpotel and Pork Vindaloo.

Rohit Barreto, CEO of Foodlets says, “Our basic service is free of cost – restaurants can create their own profile pages and foodlets of the dishes they serve. We also provide a premium paid service, where we create the restaurant profile page, assign a professional photographer to take pictures of the food and create foodlets with all details. Additionally, we promote the restaurant and its food on Facebook and Twitter because that’s where the people are.”

Not long ago, a blog post on the Harvard Business Review (HBR) website challenged the readers across the globe to design a house that can be constructed for less than $300 –a challenge similar to Ratan Tata’s which eventually produced the Nano car. With partners Jovoto, a crowd-sourcing forum for sponsored design competitions, and US$25,000 prize money underwritten by the international industrial firm Ingersoll Rand, the blog post resulted in a challenge to bring affordable housing to the world's poor. The global award was won by an Indian company : Mahindra Partners. It started with brain-storming sessions amongst a diverse group ranging from structural experts, clean-tech professionals and technologists. It culminated into investment of personal time and effort towards designing a low-skill and low-cost solution. The design that finally emerged as a winner incorporates materials which are abundantly available in local markets and utilizes low-technology inputs and simple design that can be built easily at low-cost.In this country we need both frugal innovation and crowdsourcing. When resources are scarce, creativity must be both boundless and borderless.