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April 22, 2009


Brett T. T. Macfarlane

What I love about crowd sourcing is the lateral application of knowledge or ideas from one area of thought, profession or expertise to another. Interesting things come from the cross over between different disciplines.

The business it is transforming most deeply is probably the business of R&D, which is universal to most industries. P&G is doing a phenomenal job with crowdsourcing for innovation.

A big and meaty consideration, and challenge depending on how you look at it and the tenacity of one's legal department, is intellectual Property ownership. How are participants compensated? I'd say you have to be very clear up front, and different models can work depending on the company/context. A fixed percentage of royalties such as the Doritos campaign new flavour campaign in Canada, couple hundred dollars of free product such as with Lego, or just the fun of participating with no tangible reward other than the honour of choosing/using your work such as with band t-shirts and concert posters. Check out the band Brand New for the last example.

However, when crowd sourcing is truly collaborative, where ideas build on ideas, that bundle of contribution and contributors creates an interesting thicket of participants in intellectual property. I'd be surprised if IP law has addressed it.

Overall crowdsourcing presumably will be positive as it will lead to new products and services that are more original and usable. Designed outside of, or at least not insanely driven by, the fallible market research models that still lead to 90% product launch failure rates, despite all of them getting "off the charts great" research measures.

Marina Martin

First, crowdsourcing seems to have a definition problem. Many go by the current Wikipedia standard: "the act of taking a task traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people." However, it's possible (though harder) to crowdsource without the use of the Internet, and many accepted instances of crowdsourcing *do* define the group of people asked to contribute.

I assume you are familiar with the Crowdsourcing Wiki ( ) that has an extensive list of crowdsourcing examples.

Many crowdsourced projects are facing serious criticism from groups like NO!SPEC ( ) because most projects expect creatives to work for free on the chance that their work may be selected and they will then be compensated. In other words, crowdsourcing has become a fancy new word for "contest."

It's one thing to crowdsource quick ideas or answers, as with LinkedIn Answers. People who answer questions in a crowdsourced environment typically are not compensated (although Mahalo Answers is a notable exception), but the cost of participation is low (a few minutes) and the person answering benefits from additional public exposure as an expert in their field and possibly some real-world problem solving experience that would benefit their paid work.

Companies can avoid the PR/moral problem of spec work by engaging in -- or working with companies that engage in -- a crowdsourcing model that fairly compensates participants for their work.

Elastic Lab is one such company. (Disclaimer: I work for them.) Elastic Lab built a network of filmmakers across the U.S. and Canada (mainly discovered through their social media involvement) and hires them to shoot footage for commercial video projects for major brands. Amateurs shoot more basic scenes, gaining experience while being paid, while more experienced/professional filmmakers get more challenging and higher-paying assignments. No one is ever asked to work for free (even if some commissioned footage ends up not making it into the final video).

Via Elastic Lab's crowdsourcing, brands get authentic (no paid on-screen talent) video content from multiple geographic locations (with zero travel costs) and a degree of free marketing (from the filmmakers themselves who are social media enthusiasts) at an affordable cost (because breaking down the project means each filmmaker can be paid fairly but the overall cost of the production is much lower than with a traditional production house) ... and they can get hundreds such videos at a time.

Hope this gives you something to chew on for your article. Looking forward to reading it.

Andrew Rock

Go to NAIL.CC, check their blog "brain" and read their piece on crowdsourcing and a comment about John Seely Brown, and what he says about copyright and IP ownership.


I interned as a media planner last summer at a digital agency and had to do some research on crowdsourcing.

I think Jeff Howe coined the term 'crowdsourcing' and wrote a book called "Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business"

The main benefit of using 'the wisdom of crowds' is that its cheaper (many times free) than hiring staff and experts of that field will participate. Some successful companies that use crowdsourcing are Wikipedia (public policed encyclopedia), (community-based t-shirt company), Amazon (recommendations).

The bad sides of crowdsourcing is losing control of your business, sometimes the masses aren't always right and it takes a long time for things to get done. For more info, search 'crowdsourcing' at

It's been a while since I did this research, but my general opinion is that crowdsourcing is great for the masses because its giving the public more voice; however, I don't think crowdsourcing is for ALL businesses. There has to be a logical fit... and I think the 'term' crowdsourcing lost its attraction when every company just wanted to incorporate it into their business plans.

Digital communcation has advanced to the point where crowdsourcing won't just be a term but just a natural practice... for example, you are able to ask for advice on your op/ed piece with a simple blog post.


is crowdsourcing through twitter the new aggregator? we all follow certain tweeters or "crowds". Those who we value for their content, so are these tweets the new rss feeds? Are we synthesizing all of our news into 140 characters or links and relying on others for our news and then recreating that news back to our own crowds. Not sure this is crowdsourcing per se but it does beg the question about intellectual property from within the crowd. Just a thought. and needs more thinking.


Thanks for all of the great comment. I'm in the middle of finishing the article and will be posting some more questions.

Paul Marsden

Hi John, have just finished doing interviews with iStock, Threadless, P&G, OpenAd and others for an article on crowdsourcing that addresses many of yoiur questions - here's the result, feel free to use in the spirit of collaborative crowdourcing-


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, the problem with spec, as I see it, is mirlutieted. As David mentioned, clients can often lose out due to the non due diligence associated with the spec model. Beyond this, spec work is often a one shot deal. That means that those designers who work primarily on spec must market their wares much more rigorously that those designers who choose to build longer term relationships with their clients.When a designer works to build a relationship, design tends to become more strategic in nature. They have the opportunity to learn their clientse2€™ businesses and industries in greater detail. They have a better understanding their clientse2€™ competitors and audience. With that information, a designer can develop solutions that are targeted and have better focus. They can also anticipate potential challenges their clients may have and make suggestions for design materials that help overcome those challenges.Crowdspring and likes will be around, as will designers who choose to work that model. But, I would think that in many cases, those designers have to work a lot harder in the long run to generate [winning] projects and, ultimately, revenue. Sure, there are those who have a day job and tap into Crowdspring, Elance and others for occasional freelance gigs. My feeling on that is, e2€œKnock yourself out.e2€9d I done2€™t compete with them. For the ones who are trying to make a livable income, ite2€™s got to be awful tough. How much time will a designer need to spend designing this and that to make just $30,000/year? If you figure they win a logo gig for an average of $200 each, thate2€™s 150 winning logos plus all the ones that didne2€™t win. To me, that kind of becomes assembly line design.As for the companies who buy these design items, sure, they might get some nifty designs for a song. Given the paltry state of the economy, I imagine there are more and more companies looking for a deal. On the flip side, there will always be those companies who prefer to go the route of RFPs, reviews and selection.If all a company wants is some ink on paper or pixels on a screen, the Crowdspring thing might be just right for them. But, for those companies who have worked hard to build their business, brand and labored creating a tight marketing plan, I done2€™t think the Crowdspring model makes much sense. Theye2€™re going to want to build a relationship with a designer or firm who understands what the company is all about and trying to achieve. Theye2€™re likely going to want a custom-tailored solution rather than something off the shelf.At the end of the day, youe2€™re right, ite2€™s the individual designere2€™s choice. But, I believe ite2€™s important for that designer to have an understanding of what the effect is on the industry, how strategic their design can be and how much time and effort theye2€™re willing to put in on a project that, odds are, will be rejected. From what I see on Crowdspring, the average project gets 77 submissions, so theree2€™s a whole lot of rejection going on.

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