Crowdsourcing: Pros and Cons

It’s funny that we are discussing crowdsourcing this week, as one of my colleagues became the “victim” of crowdsourcing last week and was not too happy about it. My colleague had been working on logo designs for a friend that was opening a gym. After spending approximately 20 hours of work on logo ideas, she learned (via Facebook) her friend had gone with someone else’s logo, which had been acquired through crowdsourcing. My colleague was very upset because not only were none of her logo designs chosen, but she was never compensated for her time spent working on the ideas. She declared to me that “crowdsourcing is the death of the design industry.” Do you agree? Have you ever been the “victim” of crowdsourcing?

As we learned from this week’s readings, there are both pros and cons to crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing was coined by Jeff Howe in a 2006 Wired article titled “The Rise of Crowdsourcing,” and defined as “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated employee and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.”


As Howe mentions one of the benefits is it doesn’t matter where the “laborers” are, as long as they are connected to a network a company can tap into millions of potential resources. And these potential resources or “tinkerers” don’t have to be professionals or professionally trained, they can be hobbyists, part-timers/freelancers, or amateurs who are very talented and very enthusiastic. Another pro: the labor isn’t always free, but it usually is a lot cheaper than paying traditional employees. As company’s battle lower budgets and rising costs for research, crowdsourcing can be a doable alternative and in some cases a necessary alternative.

Marion K. Poetz and Martin Schreier noted several pros as well in their paper, The value of crowdsourcing: Can users really compete with professionals in generating new product ideas?, including the fact that many users may be more innovative than professionals. They noted the research done with The Bamed/MAM Group as evidence that user-generated ideas tend to be both more innovative but also more customer beneficial than professionally-generated ideas. They noted that professionals tend to be blocked from alternative solutions, because of their previous knowledge or connection with the company they are employed by.


As both Howe, Poetz and Schreier note, professionals usually have more expertise than users. “Usually” being the key word, as it clearly isn’t an absolute since we saw in several examples that user-generated content/ideas were just as good, if not better, than those created by professionals. User-generated ideas can also often times be less feasible. Professionals tend to be more capable of coming up with ideas that can be more easily developed into a product ready for a market. Another con to crowdsourcing is finding qualified users. It can be hard to measure what extent a crowd’s expertise or knowledge will be.

Overall, I think both of these readings prove a clear message: crowdsourcing is beneficial if used in collaboration with professionals. Yes, the ideas generated might be more innovative, but if professionals can’t translate them to the actual market, the ideas are for nothing. Companies need to utilize both as a resource and not use one group solely. Do you agree — should crowdsourcing be used jointly with professional staff? 

Let’s Jam!

The third reading this week, Jamming for a smarter planet, introduced me to a new term. A “Jam” is defined as an internet-based platform for conducting conversations through brainstorming. Working in the healthcare industry, the Jam about smarter healthcare stood out to me. My organization does utilize the electronic medical record (EMR), but we often discuss how its not used to its full potential yet. We are constantly working to improve processes and when marketing new services, incorporating the EMR increased benefits. I completely agree with all of the key insights mentioned, most importantly, the risk of human error. This is a constant battle in healthcare: technological advances vs. human instinct. You can’t use one solely, both need to play a role in healthcare. Which Jam were you most drawn to and did you agree the ideas for innovation presented?


7 thoughts on “Crowdsourcing: Pros and Cons

  1. Laura,

    I do think that crowdsourcing is killing a lot of professions however I do believe that there is a way to combine the two so that both parties are benefiting. I have never personally been a victim, but I have several friends who have. First of all, like with your graphic design example. I feel like there needs to be a consensus with all graphic designers. I understand that some fresh graphic designers are willing to accept little or nothing or work for free in the beginning or dabble in crowdsourcing their work in order to get their names out there. I think they need to be aware of the damage they are doing to their profession as a whole. Because one day, after they have garnered all of that necessary experience, they will be experienced professionals who will want to be better compensated for their work and ideas. With this being said, I believe their needs to be a standard/cut off regarding how low of pay these professionals are willing to accept. What do you think? Do you think this may help?

    I like how crowdsourcing was compared with the ideas of Professionals but I don’t think they necessarily have to be done jointly with Professionals. People whose ideas come from crowdsourcing our professionals too, they just may or may not solely be focused in that particular field. Just because that field may or may not be their main focus doesn’t mean they arent professionals. Right? What do you think?

    I was mostly drawn to the Jam surrounding healthcare. And I disagreed with their insight regarding Data Privacy. Just because a persons records are electronic doesn’t influence an insurance company to deny coverage? An insurance company can get ones records if they are on paper or electronic-and the medium in which the records are on do not determine whether or not they will or will not deny coverage? And I think one important thing they were forgetting is that just because records are electronic, it doesnt mean providers can just release them to anyone! You still have to obtain patients consent otherwise it is a violation of HIPPA laws. You can’t pay to get someones health records. That will result in some serious law suits. So I think they should have taken that into account. What about you? Which one did you like? your thoughts?

  2. I think having a standardized pay scale would be ideal, but I don’t think it will happen. I guess like with any profession there is a scale on your experience. Those with more get paid more. But you’re right a person doesn’t have to be considered a professional to have professional skills, especially if they are doing something as a hobby, or say they are retired. The lines between professional and consumer are often blurred. So, there’s really no easy answer. I think people just need to be aware of the damage they may be doing when giving away work very cheaply via crowdsourcing.

    I also like the Healthcare Jam the most, see my original post for thoughts on that! But I agree, electronic doesn’t mean security is any more compromised than with paper medical records. In fact, I think it’s safer.

  3. I can actually see how crowdsourcing could potentially be beneficial if the professional side was to work with the crowdsourcing side, and it actually ties in a graphic design example. Our home office has a graphic design team, who can, at times (is this mic on?) get very stuck or rigid in what they design. I’m very fortunate to have a campus of gifted students and an abundance of vendors who have great creative departments who love the University. Many are willing to be creative for us… and would love to get their image on staff t-shirts. When the design our team has created before has been ugly, I have “approved” it in the system and gone with an outsider’s design. I know this is terrible, but it’s true. Someone who loves the University and isn’t tied to the company had a better idea… it worked out well. In a sense, I’ve victimized someone with crowdsourcing and have never come clean, until right now.

    All in all, I really liked the concept of the Jam session and how we could use it for everyone day business and problem solving/brainstorming. Companies can really take the model and use it for their model depending on what they do. I was drawn to the Smart Cities Jam and thought the questions they asked in the polls were interesting. I’d love to think that my car could drive 100 miles per gallon in 2025. Fingers crossed…

    • Kristin, you’re definitely not the only one who has chosen an “outsider’s” designer over someone internal. I hope you feel better after sharing though! Similar situations have happened with the creative team I work with. We do marketing for physicians, who are very particular, if they don’t like something they don’t have any problem letting you know. Often times, I’m stuck in the middle of a client that’s unhappy and a designer that’s grumpy. I’ve taken the easy way out before and either reassigned the job or outsourced it. In the end it’s usually less stressful on everyone, but it definitely doesn’t solve the problem from happening again and again.

      • I feel so much better! Thanks for listening! I know that middle point, and it’s tough ground to be in/on. And you are exactly right, it’s a cycle that continues to happen… sometimes you just wish people were more receptive to new ideas…

      • Yes, sometimes people aren’t receptive to constructed criticism. It’s a shame!

  4. Yes! Crowdsourcing needs to be conducted in conjunction with a professional staff to ensure that a) no one gets the shaft and b) the right questions are being asked to lead to the right answers. No one should have to commit that much time and effort to a project just to feel like they weren’t a part of the end result. I haven’t personally had that happen to me, but I try to be incredibly sensitive to that when conducting crowdsourcing efforts. I especially liked the analysis of the IBM article that stated crowdsourced products tend to be more innovative yet less feasible. They aren’t confined by what is possible or impossible- just the best solution.

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