Thursday, February 5, 2009

The creativity of crowds

My first exposure to the idea of crowds was Elias Canetti's book, Crowds and Power. Although, as an undergraduate, I was fascinated by the enthusiasm of the left-leaning Politics 101 lecturer (replete with a woolly turtle-neck pullover), Canetti's study of crowd behaviour as it manifests itself in human activities ranging from mob violence to religious congregations and football fan behaviour in stadiums did not seem to have any resonance beyond intellectual curiosity.

But, of late, I have been very interested in a different type of crowd. A virtual crowd. A virtual crowd that has commercial possibilities.

In an post that I did some months ago, I highlighted a Time article on the phenomenon of crowdfunding which has helped charities and political activity (the greatest example being Barack Obama's presidential campaign). Certain political parties in Malaysia are probably cluey about this fundraising methodology.

I was even more intrigued to read in Forbes about the phenomenon of crowdsourcing. I looked it up and here's what Wiki has to say about it:

Crowdsourcing is 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, or help capture, systematize or analyze large amounts of data.

The term has become popular with business authors and journalists as shorthand for the trend of leveraging the mass collaboration enabled by Web 2.0 technologies to achieve business goals.

Crowdsourcing is a distributed problem-solving and production model. Problems are broadcast to an unknown group of solvers in the form of an open call for solutions. Users--also known as the crowd--typically form into online communities, and the crowd submits solutions. The crowd also sorts through the solutions, finding the best ones. These best solutions are then owned by the entity that broadcast the problem in the first place--the crowdsourcer--and the winning individuals in the crowd are sometimes rewarded. In some cases, this labor is well compensated, either monetarily, with prizes, or with recognition. In other cases, the only rewards may be kudos or intellectual satisfaction. Crowdsourcing may produce solutions from amateurs or volunteers working in their spare time, or from experts or small businesses which were unknown to the initiating organization.

Perceived benefits of crowdsourcing include:

  • Problems can be explored at comparatively little cost, and often very quickly.
  • Payment is by results.
  • The organization can tap a wider range of talent than might be present in its own organization.

The difference between crowdsourcing and ordinary outsourcing is that a task or problem is outsourced to an undefined public rather than a specific other body. The difference between crowdsourcing and ordinary outsourcing is that open source production is a cooperative activity initiated and voluntarily undertaken by members of the public. In crowdsourcing the activity is initiated by a client and the work may be undertaken on an individual, as well as a group, basis.
The article I read in Forbes focuses on a company called, which allows buyers to run competitions for company logos, Web sites, T-shirts and the like. For buyers of designs, that means more choice at a fraction of the cost of hiring designers.

For aspiring designers, it means a shot at stealing work from entrenched design firms.

This is a win-win proposition.

Applicability to Malaysia 
I see this as an opportunity. Malaysia has so many colourful communities. Our culture is so varied and colourful. The designs of batik, songket, wood carvings and dresses are wonderfully creative and intricate. 

What we need to do, is to replicate all this Malaysian creativity from the physical world into the virtual world.  

What we need are technopreneurial talents that can connect Malaysian cottage industries with the greater world of commerce by matching buyers with designers.

This can be done from the comfort of our homes. It has very low entry cost. All it needs are technopreneurs to provide the hosting and, creative Malaysians to present their works for each area of work.

Rather than me boring you further, click on the link to and let me know what you think.


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for writing about crowdSPRING. Part of our early motivation in founding crowdSPRING was an online competition that took place among graphic designers in Malaysia. We found the work to be at such an exceptional quality - we asked why people around the world couldn't compete based on talent, rather than location, education or experience. And we're real fortunate to have many talented creatives from Malaysia working on crowdSPRING - bringing their flavor of creativity to our awesome community.


Ross Kimbarovsky

de minimis said...

It is heartening to know that Malaysia contributed to the impulse that has spawn an impressive business model. We need to learn from you and crowdSpring.

walla said...

It's a good idea. Maybe it can even be applied to commissioning paintings and other art crafts (something for mamasita), inasmuch industrial designing. The flip side is about administration (tragedy of the commons, ip etc) but they would have addressed them.

some more, please.

Anonymous said...

I suppose the opensource software movement - the methodology that produced the Linux operating system, Firefox browser and the Apache webserver, for example - is one of the earliest forms of crowdsourcing.

I never thought it would extend beyond software development. I was a 'katak bawah tempurung' in thinking only within the software development box. Thank you for opening my eyes, bro!