Web technologies and social media have opened the door to a new world of idea generation and collaborative environments. Governments and organizations all over the world have started using crowdsourcing to shorten time-to-market for new projects or to improve service levels. There is already a reservoir of community talent that can be tapped into inexpensively by most organizations, but not many companies are using social media to interact directly with their customers in order to influence product creation, design or strategy — as suggested by Forrester Research.
Years back, Amazon started a system called Mechanical Turk, which off-loads simple tasks to humans around the world; people are still working on these tasks, even for pennies. Mostly, it was used for the tasks which can not be performed by computers like describing the content of an image or audio to text translation or other tedious tasks where human intelligence is required. But now, with location-based social networking tools, restaurants, bars, theatres and other services are changing their offerings based on reviews and real-time trends.
This is going to change the nature of work drastically and enable more technologies for collaborative editing. This also allows developers, customers and brand advocates to come together to curate crowd-generated suggestions — leading to more examples of how crowdsourcing will play an important role in marketing, advertising and open innovations. Now non-specialists can show an appetite for participating in an astounding variety of collective, distributed tasks — from the mundane to the most sophisticated.
To tap into the collective intelligence, crowdsourcing is being used to give suggestions to Starbucks, address global climate change problems, and spur NASA’s software development. We’re seeing big brands adopting this approach as well. Unilever dropped its ad agency after 16 years and put up a $10,000 prize for creative marketing ideas, and 50 percent of product initiatives at Procter & Gamble involve significant collaboration with outside innovators.
Gradually, with crowdsourcing, it is becoming easier to tap into the wisdom of the community. Google also runs many crowdsourcing projects internally open only to its employees to forecast product launch dates, new office openings and other strategic corporate decisions. Another output of crowdsourcing is Google Zeitgeist which is based on the aggregation of billions of search queries people typed into Google this year — Zeitgeist captures the spirit of 2010.
The MIT Center for Collective Intelligence has set up many projects to understand how to take advantage of these possibilities. Their basic research question is: “How can people and computers be connected so that collectively they act more intelligently than any individual, groups or computers have ever done before?”
We all know that hyperlinks subvert hierarchy, and the gap in knowledge between the experts and amateurs is shrinking. Crowdsourcing platforms are bringing a renaissance of amateurism that is very useful and crucial to the future of the online marketplace. One day, it may be that the best managed, niche crowds on the Web will become the organization with the most competitive advantage.