Big Business and Amateurs: Who Crowdsourcing Really Helps

Image source: chesapeakeadd.com

In Week 3 we learned about how companies and businesses were able to exploit data mining, in Joel Stein’s “Data Mining: How Companies Know Everything About You,” and teenagers’ social activity, in the PBS documentary Generation Like, in order to better focus their advertising campaigns. It comes as no surprise then that the opening of Jean Burgess’s article, “All Your Chocolate Rain Are Belong to Us,” discusses how companies and marketers are using “viral marketing” in an “attempt to exploit the network effects of word-of-mouth and Internet communication in order to induce a massive number of users to pass on marketing ‘messages’ and brand information ‘voluntarily’” (1). These same entities are already using the skateboarding videos and social media sharing practices of teenagers to create more visibility for their product, and as Burgess describes, they are attempting to do the same with crowdsourcing, or what Burgess analogously refers to as “participatory culture.”

https://plus.google.com/u/0/+istock
Image source: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+istock

Like data mining, crowdsourcing and participatory culture are a godsend for the marketing departments of big businesses, giving them another avenue for helping to move more product from the shelves. But in a far more sinister twist, crowdsourcing also helps to cut expenses for these companies without having to reinvest it in their employees. In what Nicholas Carr refers to as “The Cult of the Amateur” in his article “The amorality of Web 2.0,” the untrained and unpaid freelancing blogger has become more well-liked and venerated by the public at large, negating the influence of the professional journalist. “The promoters of Web 2.0 venerate the amateur and distrust the professional,” says Carr. “We see it in their unalloyed praise of Wikipedia, and we see it in their worship of open-source software and myriad other examples of democratic creativity.” The same goes for any profession that can be executed online, as Jeff Howe demonstrates in his article “The Rise of Crowdsourcing,” in which iStockPhoto, Mechanical Turk, and Web Junk 20 are endangering the job market for photographers, programmers, and on-air talent.

The upshot of all of this is that professionals like Mark Harmel, profiled in “The Rise of Crowdsourcing, find that the lifetime of skills and training that they have acquired in order to make a livelihood are becoming useless as the job market for their skills dry up in favor of amateurs who just bought a camera. Meanwhile companies like iConclude reap huge profits by paying pennies on the dollar for the work of these amateurs, as this ending episode in Howe’s article demonstrates:

Gupta turns his laptop around to show me a flowchart on his screen. “This is what we were paying $2,000 for. But this one,” he says, “was authored by one of our Turkers.” I ask how much he paid. His answer: “Five dollars.”

Do you think crowdsourcing provides a legitimate tradeoff of the livelihood of professionals for more convenience in regards to online services? Do you find it ironic that people laud amateurism and crowdsourcing, when its foremost beneficiaries are established businesses which are hated in this country? And how would you react if you were in the shoes of professionals like Mark Harmel who are losing business due to crowdsourcing and collaboration?

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22 thoughts on “Big Business and Amateurs: Who Crowdsourcing Really Helps

  1. Carly Hernandez March 11, 2015 / 1:48 pm

    There are many different ways to look at crowdsourcing, but from the standpoint of a well-educated professional that has spent the time and money learning what they do it can be difficult. Times have obviously changed but professionals should definitely get credit for their hard work and dedication. If you truly want a professional photographer it will cost you more but the pictures will be of that high standard. It depends on what you want and how you want it. If I was in Mark Harmel’s position I would be upset that crowdsourcing has taken over. But I would also have to realize that everything can’t always stay the same and people are become so creative in their ways that you sometimes need an outsider’s perspective.

    There are also many positives to crowdsourcing though that I feel can outweigh the cons. An aspect of crowdsourcing is crowdfunding and a great example of that is the ‘GoFundMe’ website which has helped in many different situations and can now be found on most news outlets regarding different stories. The group ‘Anonymous’ is a group that speaks for the people by using people’s information who want to put it out there. If there is a reward for the people who are used to crowdsource from big businesses then I think it’s an even trade-off. Who wouldn’t want the opinions of other people in the same field or knowledge background? I’m working a project right now with the company that I work for and one of our clients is creating a “challenge” to come up with a restaurant idea/concept for an empty building space in downtown Detroit. Chefs who have creative ideas or who have lost their jobs can all enter. The reward for the winner is that he will be paid to live down there, become the manager, use his or hers idea and open the restaurant. This gives the owner satisfaction and for the winner they receive many benefits. This can be seen in many different situations and big businesses including Coca-Cola’s “What Will Happen Next?” campaign and the well-designed innovative concept from General Mills who has created G-WIN which crowdsources many different partners to collaborate of different aspects of the company that someone inside couldn’t tell you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jaemillz411 March 11, 2015 / 4:39 pm

    Nice post. I think crowdsourcing is hurting the public and the professional. The professional is suffering because the web is being so bombarded with hobbyist that their expertise is being undermined and overlooked. Not to mention that their jobs are becoming collateral damage because the companies they are working at are outsourcing and not investing in their own workers.

    It is also hurting the public because companies are using our hobbies for their gain. We are advertising and marketing their product in exchange for free products or a small cash incentive. Businesses reap the benefits of individual’s hard work and in exchange we get likes, follows, and/or “goodies” from the companies. And that is if we are lucky.

    This hurts the workforce because businesses are getting away with paying a lump sum to people who do not work for them as incentives to come up with solutions for their problems. They save money by crowdsourcing because they get the solution, which makes the product better and makes them more money. This encourages companies to disinvest in workers who have wages and pension plans.

    I would be high upset if I were a professional because I went to school for years and obtained a degree that gives me credit in a particular field. I would be bitter and worried about my withering job security.

    Liked by 2 people

    • eakoonter March 14, 2015 / 7:26 pm

      I always thought of crowdsourcing as a good thing. I thought this because you get to express your opinion and businesses want to give you what you want. Your comment brings a different side to my opinion…maybe crowdsourcing isn’t good! These companies are using our crowdsourcing and data mining us into what they want. Which in turns makes them more money. I never even thought of them using us for free labor and ideas. This really makes me wonder how much money I should have made in my lifetime so far. Haha!

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  3. Brandon Coulter March 12, 2015 / 12:29 am

    Focusing on amateur contributions for projects is a very dangerous route to go when attempting to establish a strong and viable source of information. While these individuals will work for little to no pay in hopes of gaining a slight bit of experience, they are more often than not in no way trained as professionals that would post more prevalent and in-depth information pertaining to the subject in question. On top of this, the existing professionals within the world are losing their jobs and altogether abandoning their careers in response to this changing work environment. To step in the shoes of one of these individuals is to become thoroughly concerned with the future of your professional career. Instead of sitting by and hoping the concept of amateur crowdsourcing blows over like a fiscal fad, the only hope for survival comes from adapting and integrating into this new market. Attempting to gather a portfolio of substantial evidence that showcases a thorough and precise body of work while also marketing the persona of a discounted freelance professional could more than likely make or break the future of one’s career. After gaining experience within the new crowdsourced market, one could easily showcase their talent to businesses or higher-up groups that require the necessary skill and aura of a tested professional, regardless of price. Starting low and ending high is one possible solution to the problem of professional work within crowdsourced markets, but it does not come without the potential of remaining among the amateur level of contributors and ultimately having to rethink career possibilities. If this is the future of the market, however, it doesn’t seem like these professionals have too much of a choice but to accept and adapt to the new ways of the service world.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. bjuhasz10 March 12, 2015 / 5:28 pm

    I think there are certainly cases where crowdsourcing has hurt professionals. I am sure there are numerous other stories like Mark Harmel’s, where someone online does their job for a fraction of the cost.

    Professionals like Harmel can’t really do much to stop crowdsourcing. Either they need to make their services cheaper, or find a way to alter their business in a way that crowdsourcers can’t do it just as well, or do something that makes their services worth the cost. If Harmel’s $600 photographs can easily be replaced with $1 photographs from iStockphoto, Harmel really needs to take a serious look at his flawed business model.

    Job fields have always been evolving since the beginning of time. There is a reason why switchboard operators, ice cutters, and human alarm clocks (yes, that used to be a real thing http://www.boredpanda.com/extinct-jobs/) don’t exist anymore. As Brandon mentioned above, I think it can be sad to see professionals who have spent their whole lives crafting their skills losing business to amateurs online, but at the end of the day, they need to adapt to the changes crowdsourcing and technology bring.

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  5. nebior March 13, 2015 / 1:12 pm

    Something you said at the very end of your post caught my eye: “The upshot of all of this is that professionals like Mark Harmel, profiled in “The Rise of Crowdsourcing, find that the lifetime of skills and training that they have acquired in order to make a livelihood are becoming useless as the job market for their skills dry up in favor of amateurs who just bought a camera.” You then asked this question: “And how would you react if you were in the shoes of professionals like Mark Harmel who are losing business due to crowdsourcing and collaboration?” I would say that if professionals are losing their jobs to any random amateur with a camera then they were probably being overpaid for the service they were providing. If someone random can take a picture for the company better than their professional photographer can then shouldn’t he be out of a job? He was probably being paid a lot of money for shots that apparently amateur photographers could best. I feel that if someone random on the internet can do something better than the person on the payroll then maybe that random person deserves to be on the payroll instead. Overall, I think crowdsourcing is a great idea because it gives the “random people” a chance to use their talent for a purpose. That amateur photographer may have thought himself to be a bad photographer when actually he was taking better pictures than someone who was paid to be taking pictures!

    –Ben Walker

    Liked by 1 person

  6. spgregor March 13, 2015 / 8:53 pm

    Overall, crowdsourcing may hurt some professionals, but as harsh as it sounds that is part of the technology age. As with many of us since the inception of the internet, they just need to find a way to re-market themselves. My business has been severely affected by the internet, but we found a way to market ourselves so we are still invaluable to our clients. That is unfortunately what technology is doing to some of the professions, and we shouldn’t eliminate great opportunities like crowdsourcing due to it. To me crowdsourcing is just a larger spin on groups at work. Corporations have projects with group participation to inspire creativity and synergy in order to create something great. Sometimes great ideas come from people feeding off of each other’s ideas, and crowdsourcing can help make this happen. Additionally, it is so competitive now that businesses are going to utilize any means they can to achieve results with the least amount of cost. Crowdsourcing appears to have proven affective and is being utilized more often in so many various ways. In order to stay in business smaller business owners are going to have to find a creative way to compete against things like crowdsourcing.

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  7. adrianhormsby March 14, 2015 / 2:48 am

    Hi Alex, congratulations on a great posting, you discuss several important issues including the replacement of professionals such as journalists and photographers by amateurs. As you point out, amateurs are filling these gaps to the delight of the corporation at a fraction of the cost. Another great example of this in my opinion, is Al Jazeera news. As you know they enlist amateur reporters to deliver on the spot footage and commentary as it happens in the Middle East, using cell phones and other amateur devices to capture timely and sometimes shocking images. This approach has defined Al Jazeera as a unique news format almost unreproducible by any other means. In addition, they achieve this unique news coverage without the expense and potential harmful consequences to full time journalists (including potential kidnapping and beheading). This replacement of professionals raises other important issues, the least of which is ownership of professional and artistic content. The corporation enlists and spends millions on copyrights, driven by lawyers who are paid megabucks to do so. But more importantly, real artists who spend years developing their professional skills, particularly photographers, are very protective of their craft. I can only imagine the dilemma they face with the exponential proliferation of images, including their own, on the internet for everyone to enjoy at no cost. It puts a new spin on the cliche “starving artists”. Going forward in the web era the new reality is that it will be impossible to compete with crowd sourcing. I notice that the smart professional journalists now have their own blogs and devoted followers that appreciate the enhanced level of journalistic linguistic skill and entertainment. As a case in point, I follow a monthly blurb of a professional astronomy writer which is simply head and shoulders above that of any amateur writer out there. No offense to the devoted amateurs and the beloved crowd source, but true artistic talent developed over years of professional training has no real equal. Just imagine for a minute if higher education was crowd sourced to exclude our Professors. Sounds ridiculous, but I wouldn’t put it past the corporation. The increased use of Grad students and non-tenured faculty, particularly in Community Colleges is becoming a disturbing trend. Reality is the corporation will take whatever quality they can get away with at for the lowest bid possible. Yes, future looks great for some but very bleak for others. Perhaps those of us shooting for a career in journalism, photography or professional communications may need to think twice about our choice of major and teaching institution.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. cseejay March 14, 2015 / 5:13 am

    I tend to agree that despite the fact that crowdsourcing might have hurt some long time professionals, it is apart of the change we’ve been experiencing with technology. Unlike other professions in Mark Harmel’s case he hasn’t failed to adapt to the changing market, big business changed while he was heavily involved in his career. So, as far as re-marketing, I think that’s a very small issue in this case. I think crowdsourcing is so popular and effective, because it allows corporations to pay less money and make more money, while producing more content. I don’t think there’s any more reason than that. The notion that crowdsourcing creates a “group” like atmosphere where individuals are able to feed off over each others ideas I think is partly true. In more cases I think corporation see an opportunity to make more money by paying someone less with minimal diminished quality of work, and it’s a no brainer. As cynical as that sounds, I think most care about money and quantity vs. quality. I think it’s up to people like Harmel to find ways of reinventing himself so he can continue to make money. I’m not sure the main issue is the company, because we should always assume they’ll do whatever possible to meet quarterly earnings.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. mvzang March 14, 2015 / 1:39 pm

    Hello, excellent blog. I couldn’t agree with you more in that many people are losing their jobs and markets are becoming more competitive for freelancing writers and photographers due to this crowdsourcing culture we are living with. As much as I hate to see this happen, it’s pretty obvious why. Like Claudia Menashe, are you going to hire a photographer for $600 when you can buy a few photos for a couple bucks off a website? The problem lies within the realm of the consumers who are becoming cheaper and cheaper. So why wouldn’t companies try and evolve with current markets and trends to continue making money than to stand for the right thing and possibly go out of business?

    We are living in a society that may be evolving too quickly. Howard Rheingold agrees when he talks about how quickly we’ve evolved as a society. Our society grew at a snail’s pace until the advent of the internet, then boom! We’ve been able to adapt and overcome so far, but it has come at the cost of many livelihoods and jobs. While there are many struggling photographers and writers out there, there are also struggling attorneys and doctors who aren’t as easily affected by crowdsourcing. The short of it is this. I feel badly for those who lose jobs due to ever changing markets, but as humans we are also able to adapt and make ourselves more marketable.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. galaradi March 15, 2015 / 2:04 pm

    Crowdsourcing does provide a more convenient way of online service to consumers. Nowadays, we can do anything online. We can shop online, take online classes, order food, and even live a “social” life online. Businesses undoubtedly and inevitably have to adapt and change their ways to fit with the way society is changing. It can be a good or bad thing, depending on whom you are asking.

    If I were on the opposite end of crowdsourcing like Mark Harmel, I would feel like I need to change something to become more successful. You cannot blame the crowdsourcing for the failure of your business, because it is a competitive field. People will always find better ways to sell, but the businesses suffering must find even better ways to become more successful. Businesses will always find ways to expand, and professionals need to find ways in the digital world as well.

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  11. blcarr March 15, 2015 / 5:34 pm

    Crowd sourcing if you are an owner is the greatest thing since slice bread. But for those who are the workers, many people are jobless due to crowd sourcing. My field as a photographer is becoming very crowded and competitive; do to the change of society today. Just like in everyday life, we always go with the cheapest option be it journalism or fast food. Everything is 2 for 5 or buy one get one free. We are evolving a light speed and in today’s time, you either adapt or get left behind.

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  12. mwiedmeyer March 15, 2015 / 5:50 pm

    I think crowdsourcing is just the latest in a long line of things that advance business. With crowdsourcing gaining popularity, people like Mr. Harmel’s jobs become obsolete. It’s happened before, it will continue to happen. Calculators used to be people who would perform the calculations needed for science or engineering, now they’re tiny machines that cost $1 at Five Below. I think, however, if you’re a true talent (for example, in the field of photography, someone like Annie Leibovitz) there will always be work for you. It’s the same as artisan craftworkers; we have machines that can make a pot for less than a quarter, but a master potter will make something truly beautiful, making it worth the higher price.
    If I was in the place of someone like Mr. Harmel, I would do my best to diversify my skills. I would learn not just photography, but video, writing, whatever media I could to make myself more valuable than the money saved by buying stock photos. Photography specifically has become a much more mainstream hobby as cameras that take great quality photos become cheaper; I mean, I had a DSLR camera in the 8th grade. For your product to beat the masses, your product has to be much better than what they’re offering.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. seananthony3 March 15, 2015 / 8:54 pm

    Crowdsourcing, as I’ve understood with something such as Kickstarter, has been a way of testing the market for a product before the product is even made. It helps show someone whether or not there is interest for their product. There are plenty of failed kickstarters and those projects, as a result simply weren’t made.

    However, I do have a problem with crowdsourcing being used by companies that can already fund their product. Crowdsourcing has become a way for the little guy, the one that cannot start up a project with their own funds, to get out there into the creative medium. Crowdsourcing can become a way of manipulating the crowd to gain a profit.

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  14. sneff16 March 15, 2015 / 9:04 pm

    While crowdsourcing can hurt some professionals, I don’t think it is a bad thing. Professionals like Mark Harmel might need to be more competitive with their pricing. In the past, professional photographers used to be able to charge an outrageous amount for pictures. For example, my cousin, who is now 20 years old, paid $1,100 for her senior pictures. They were taken by a professional photographer.That amount seems outrageous to me for a few hours of snapping pictures. I recently had my daughter’s first birthday pictures taken by a photographer that is just starting up. They were awesome. It cost me $90 and I received a disk to print the images myself. I recommend the photographer to everyone. My point is that crowdsourcing is filling a need. Some photographers are charging too much to be competitive for the current market and they are struggling because of it. I wouldn’t pay $1,100 for my daughter’s first birthday pictures. Most likely, Mark Harmel needs to lower his prices and find a way to make himself stand out from other photographers. Maybe his pictures are super awesome and if he lowers his price, he will get more cliental. Maybe he needs to sell his pictures on shutterstock. Markets change, consumers wants and needs change. In order to be competitive, you must keep up with the current times.

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  15. rmpaulk March 15, 2015 / 10:01 pm

    It all depends on the situation. If by crowdsourcing I can get the exact same quality and quantity as the “professional” then it is absolutely worth the tradeoff. If I have to compromise one of my expectations in order to get the cheaper crowdsourcing price, it might not be worth it anymore. Unfortunately we no longer live in an age where we buy things because it’s a “mom and pop” store. We buy things based on quality, quantity, and price. And there isn’t anything wrong with that. If I was a professional who was losing business to crowdsourcing and collaboration I would initially be pissed. After getting over the anger I would have to look at my product and find out if there was anything I could do to keep the same quality, but at a cheaper price. If I couldn’t, or just plain didn’t want to, I would then have to figure out what makes buying my product more alluring than buying the other cheaper, outsourced one. Does my price offer you more, is it better quality, does it come with a lifetime warranty? After determining that, I would have to create some kind of marketing campaign to showcase that. Yes, my price it higher, but here is what you will get by choosing my product over the other one.

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  16. thegradytrain March 15, 2015 / 10:22 pm

    Like participatory culture, data mining, and crowdsourcing are a godsend for big businesses, they can also be extremely helpful for smaller businesses. A lot of great ideas would not even be able to be prototyped let alone accomplished without crowdsourcing. I agree there is a little bit of an issue with crowdsourcing providing a easier method of production over more professional and more developed methods, but I think that is just how business works in general. If I was someone like Mark Harmel, I would probably kicking myself for not adapting or evolving to fit the change in markets. This is unfortunately the world we live in and it can be extremely competitive. If you can’t provide to meet your customer at a competitive price you need to change in order to do so. It is interesting to see this amateurism sort take off in a positive manner, it gives people credit who would otherwise not have been able to be recognized. As much as it can be good to receive quality work for the price, I still feel the need for some businesses to be paying for more developed work from a more dedicated business. This may not be Harmel’s scenario but crowdsourcing sites like Mturk don’t mean the end for all of a certain kind of business, just a selected amount.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. akuelbs March 15, 2015 / 10:47 pm

    Crowdsourcing can have positive and negative effects attached to them. The good that comes from crowdsourcing is it brings to light new ideas and alternate ways of getting something achieved. For instance it shows people ways of doing things themselves and save a lot of money by doing it that way than paying a professional high amounts of money for their labor. Yes, that can put professionals in an interesting spot because it is taking business from them, but it should really spark a fire under the professionals to try and understand what they can do to get that business back and find different ways to get people the same results. If we want to look at crowdfunding, i have no problem with that because it just helps show support and beliefs in a product that is yet to be created. Without crowdfunding, you could say that a good handful of inventions and creations we have today wouldn’t be possible without the support of other people backing it. Crowdfunding is a great way to gauge how people feel and how they will embrace a creation. Without knowing these factors, many people and companies would waste millions of dollars on creations that will go nowhere. With gaining this knowledge before hand, it shows people what we want and will help them see truly what will thrive and what will fall.

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  18. lewenzel93 March 15, 2015 / 11:24 pm

    I do think that crowdsourcing benefits outweigh crowdsourcing disadvantages. I think a little competition never really hurts anyone or anything, and to be honest, can really bring out the best of the best. For example, by making people compete in this kind of market, it truly benefits the consumer as producers are always trying to beat their competition in putting out the highest quality and lowest priced products. It might be a losing scenario for Mark, but in reality, if iStockphoto is able to put out a similar product for a much cheaper price, then the laws of simple business dictate that Mark is going to need to find himself a new way to make revenue. It’s cold, but that’s business.

    I do find it ironic that people laud amateurism and crowdsourcing. It undermines just how important the concept is. Just because something is immature in it’s nature, doesn’t make it any less valid.

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  19. efekete March 15, 2015 / 11:25 pm

    One of the ways I look at crowdsourcing is a way of marketing a product and creating suspense for it. Kickstarter allows us to fund just about any kind of project be it films, video games, or potato salad. By funding these projects via the public we create an appeal because so many consumers have expressed interest. And having these products be exclusively available through the crowd sourcing site or if we donate we are granted first “dibs” in purchasing the product, the hype is further increased. I still believe if you have a truly innovative product that going through the proper channels is the best way, because if its a quality product why wouldn’t major companies recognize that?

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  20. smkiraco March 15, 2015 / 11:48 pm

    Yes, I do think that corwdsourcing provides a legitimate tradeoff. Every new piece of technology brings forth this risk. It is inevitable. So, I guess I am utilitarian in this thought as I believe that this benefits more people than it negatively affects. It is unfortunate yet a necessity.

    Oh, I definitely think it is ironic to applaud crowdsourcing but demonize some of the businesses that use it to their advantages. This is not like outsourcing where there can be a human suffering element to its use as crowdsourcing is voluntary. Ignorance, or naiveté depending on how you look at it, has a huge part to do with it. Many are so willing to contribute or promote this type of contribution without looking into where the money leads. In a way, I am glad of this as I think that some crowdsourcing would not be contributed to solely because of what company might be benefiting.

    If I were in the shoes of those losing their jobs because of this I would try to quickly find a way to adjust my expertise to accommodate this new ideology. For instance, contributing my photos to such stock photo sites for a price, try to be hired by the site to fulfill various roles that maybe needed, to help create an expert system, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. hessaj March 16, 2015 / 12:10 am

    I think crowdsourcing pays off in the end, it’s just if you can keep up. Things are constantly changing, and new things are popping up, if something of your caliber is knocked off by another because their gimmick has been attracting them more than you. In what happened with Mark Hamel, he didn’t adjust to the times, skill does matter but innovation goes a long way. That’s how companies today are still in the run with their newer competitors.

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