For the People,By the People

Crowd sourcing has been around for quite some time; find out how you can make it work for you…



One evening, amidst the hustle and bustle of the traffic, my phone rang. It was the editor to announce that baby TBE turns one this February, and during the discussion, she suggested the theme ‘Crowd sourcing’ for the upcoming issue. “Crowd sourcing#!!??” sounded interesting and I agreed right away to give it a try. So my first move was to consult the universal Godfather “Google” and it threw up umpteen number of technical content on the topic; as you can see, this is the generation of shares and tweets, and remixes and creates content that anyone can understand. However, after a brief research and with all due respect to Jeff Howe, I finally settled down to write a ‘Desi’ version. Trust you will find it useful.

Crowd sourcing Version one

‘Crowd sourcing’ is the act of taking a task traditionally performed by a designated agent (such as an employee or a contractor) and outsourcing it by making an open call to an undefined but large group of people. Crowd sourcing allows the power of the crowd to accomplish tasks that were once the province of a specialized few. Or to put it another way, crowd sourcing is to take the principles that have worked for open source software projects and apply them right across the entire spectrum of the business world. – Jeff Howe. For example, Harley Davidson’s renowned crowd sourced ‘virtual creative department’ listed 3,200 international participants to create a market overview as well as guide the marketing model for the brand. After 31 years of association with the ad agency Carmichael Lynch, Harley Davidson has finally settled on the crowd sourcing strategy for its core creative marketing development.

The Desi version

The similarities can’t be missed by any Indian household. The restless claps, the nervewracking BGM, the racing heartbeats, the hot seat, computer Ji and the evergreen Bollywood heartthrob ‘Big B’ clad in a dark suit and sporting glasses with thick frames, the white beard adding to the distinguished look, seated in the chic seat of the Kaun Banega Crorepati, pitching the dialogue “Toh Aap Janta Ki Rai Lehna Chahate Hai” (So you wish to take the public opinion). Yes, you rightly guessed, the ‘audience poll’ where the audience uses a touchpad to designate what they believe to be the correct answer. After the audience has chosen, the results are displayed for the player on the hot seat to decide. This is a typical example of crowd sourcing. In simple words, “A problem shared is a problem halved.”Wikipedia, YouTube, and Google are a few House hold examples of crowd sourcing.

The journey

The trendy parlance ‘crowd sourcing’ was first coined by Wired magazine’s contributing editor, Jeff Howe, in 2006; ever since, the jargon has become the lingo of the future. However, the concept dates back to 1715 when the British government ran an open contest (the Longitude Prize) to trace an effective maritime navigation solution; a clockmaker called John Harrison won the contest. Further reviews presented another interesting fact that a century later early editions of The Oxford English Dictionary was crowdsourced by volunteer contributors sending in definitions on paper slips. More recently, governments and industry alike have embraced crowdsourcing through open contests; a perfect example is the Indian Rupee Design Contest: on March 5 2009, the government crowdsourced the design idea from the public. Five signs were shortlisted from 3,331 responses and on July 15, 2010, the symbol designed by Mr. D. Udaya Kumar was selected. Thus, crowdsourcing is more ‘Citizen Science’ than technology. Crowdsourcing, at its most primary level, is about collaborative intelligence towards a common goal. In simple words, when you don’t have the answers, you unearth somebody who knows or a group of people whose collective intelligence holds the key to your dilemma. Conventionally, owing to an immature network infrastructure, this model was exigent in the business space to a larger extent, but currently the term crowdsourcing has become popular, and will in a short time simply be the way business is done. From our Supersinger contests to Zimbra, crowdsourcing is everywhere.

Getting started

The whole idea of crowdsourcing seems simple, but there are certain rules to the game… master the rules and keep cracking!

  • KISS – Keep it Short and Simple: This is the prime rule of the game. Do not overload the task with clauses. Keep the task simple and short for the contributors. One-click participation is the rule of thumb to ensure participation. User friendliness is the key to the Pandora ’s Box. Complex procedures are crowd diffusers. A good case-study would be Nokia Labs – Nokia invited customers to test pre-commercialized apps. By crowd sourcing customer feedback and testing to a user community they were not only able to test their new applications but also get ideas for further development. Nokia’s crowd sourcing platform included a discussion board and a user experience survey.
  • Small is beautiful: Encourage and entertain a small span of talent pool. Ensure that the crowd is qualified and knowledgeable to provide insightful crowd outcome on the topic of the call. The smaller the crowd, the better the output and easy the management. Allow genuine meritocracies to emerge. Trust the collective intelligence, like how it worked with the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) – the Priority Club Rewards and Chase loyalty program. IHG turned to ‘Communispace’, a provider of private online communities, to rally a pool of 300 current Priority Club Visa cardholders willing to share their opinions on what card benefits and services they would want. Six months later, the community continued to serve as a learning mechanism for Priority Club Rewards, helping with both ideation and customer service.
  • Time is Money, Honey: Invest time to comprehend the whole process, platform and the application of crowd sourcing to implement meaningfully to suit your business needs. Plan the crowd sourcing exercise to reap maximum benefits. A case in point would be My Starbucks Idea – the cafe giant crowd sourced idea generation to its customers. The website enabled the company’s audience to vote on ideas, give mutual feedback, discuss and collaborate. This initiative paved the way for Starbucks to increase customer engagement as well as gain publicity, and, of course, generate a flow of suggestions to the company from a brand and customer


  • Look for diamonds in the rough: Make a clear and concise call to define the problem and wait for the outcome. Do not make vague or unclear calls; it would only yield confused outcomes. Choose an appealing promotional pitch. “Do you have a design in mind?” was the call of “Lego Design by Me”. Lego crowd sourced the design of scores of their new products by providing downloadable design software that runs on customers’ machines, on which they can design and build their own Lego product design online and then purchase the very concept they created. Lego achieved 99.9% customer engagement and satisfaction. Provide space for such open innovation.
  • Do not miss to feed “carrots”: Nurture crowd participation and reward at the right time. The right incentive is the key to keep the enthusiasm going and attracting and retaining participation. Focus on various forms of incentives such as monetary and non-monetary forms. After all, it’s a human brain and mind that needs not just the “Gajar” but the “Gajar Halwa” as a fuel for idea generation.
  • Technically Tackle the Technology: Technology has the power to make and break an idea. Prepare a checklist of your organization specific crowd sourcing products to obviate disappointments. Study the trend. Test and implement technology that would suit universal demand and needs. Invest in robust technology that supports data validity and mining. Upgrade technology as the trend changes as rightly done by Yahoo! Pipes – a web application by Yahoo! involved in crowd sourcing online content aggregation, manipulation, and mash up to logged-in Yahoo! users. Pipes’ graphic interface enables users to pipe information from different sources and set guidelines for content modification, resulting in user-generated ‘web apps’ put together to serve specific user needs. As Jeff Howe rightly said, “Crowd sourcing is Outsourcing on Steroids”

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