Crowdsourcing: What’s the Catch?

crowdsourcing-spigotSince the rise of the internet, we have seen many new developments in all kinds of areas, such as social life and even big business. Essentially, the internet creates a network that makes it possible to connect with people all over the world, but there is a new age in the internet expands business possibilities to a whole new realm. Until the rise of the internet, businesses had to look to their staff to solve problems, produce ideas and create products. With the dawn of this new age however, businesses can release their problems to the world’s thinkers online and resolve issues faster than ever before. In addition, people can join together in various online collectives to form glorious online tools such as Wikipedia. So, how is this possible? These new online ideas are what is now known as crowdsourcing and participatory culture. To sum it all up in one simple manner:

source: http://www.crowdsourcing.org/editorial/crowdsourcing-and-crowdfunding-explained-a-short-animated-film-by-crowdsourcingorg/12431
source: http://www.crowdsourcing.org/editorial/crowdsourcing-and-crowdfunding-explained-a-short-animated-film-by-crowdsourcingorg/12431

There is also a fun and entertaining side to this new age in the internet that I personally enjoy a lot and I’m sure many of you do as well: Enter the hilarious world of memes and viral videos.

http://blog.automart.co.za/2014/07/31/internet-memes-selling-car/
http://blog.automart.co.za/2014/07/31/internet-memes-selling-car/

Memes and viral videos represent participatory because these things are being created by the people, for the people and not just by producers anymore. We see regularly every day people who happen to catch a hilarious moment on video “go viral” overnight. We now even see shows revolving around these videos such as “Ridiculousness” on MTV and as Jeff Howe shows us in his article The Rise of Crowdsurfing, shows such as these are significantly cheaper to produce thanks to the crowd producing endless amounts of videos.

So if this all seems like an awesome use of the internet, why is it debated on whether it is a good thing or not? While big business and even individuals benefit from the new age on the internet, there are also myths to crowdsourcing as well as pitfalls. For example, as Jeff Howe discusses in his article, there are business owners who fall victim. Enter Claudia Minashe. Claudie needed stock photos for a medical project coming up. After being quoted $600 by Mark Hamel, a professional stock photographer, for just 4 stock photos, she discovered iStockphoto, a stock photo website that sells stock photos for as low as just $1! Claudia made the obvious choice and saved money where she could, but in turn business owners like Hamel suffer a great loss. Many things that were once charged for, are now free or cost significantly less thanks to crowdsourcing and as Nicholar Carr tells us, “Free trumps quality all the time.”

There is also great myth to crowdsourcing, according to Dan Woods of Forbes. Woods explains to us that “…a problem is broadcast to a large number of people with varying expertise. Then individuals motivated by obsession, competition, money or all three apply their individual talent to creating a solution.” So there it is, another aspect to crowdsourcing. Many of these online problem solvers are everyday people, which can be viewed as good or problematic. Also, these people are out to solve these problems or get involved in these business like iStockphoto to make a profit with their skills in their free time. Further, he continues to show us that Wikipedia for example, may appear to be crowd-created,  but it’s founder Jimmy Wales admitted “The vast majority (of entries) are the product of a motivated individual” and are later on corrected and improved by others. Furthermore, Chris Wilson shows us in The Wisdom of the Chaperone, that “about 1% of Wikipedia users are responsible for about half of the site’s edits” and that there are also online bots that monitor what is posted for errors, vandalism and obscene posts to ensure the site remains credible- Hence the myth of the crowd. While it may be true that the resolutions and works come out of a crowd, they aren’t produced by the crowd directly, but individuals rather.

After this display of benefits and downfalls, do you think that crowdsourcing benefits outweigh the fact that many jobs are being “crowdsourced?” Also, do you think that there is a true “myth of the crowd,” or are these efforts truly the commune that they appear to be?

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23 thoughts on “Crowdsourcing: What’s the Catch?

  1. Brandon Coulter March 12, 2015 / 3:36 pm

    The concept of a mythological crowd involved with crowdsourcing does hold some weight when analyzed in context with specific sites. It can be shown that for the amount of people involved in crowdsourced websites, such as the freely-edited Wikipedia, a very low percentage of the users actively contribute to the showcased content. This being said, we cannot gloss over the fact that these users are still a part of the group effort as a whole. While crowdsourcing acts as a good way to find cheap work for easy projects, it also acts as a way of weeding through the lackluster contributions to find the true additions with substance. In terms of something like Wikipedia, the individuals that make up the crowd are all of the users associated with the site. When we analyze those that contribute, we can deduce which individuals are worthy of recognition and, therefore, are granted greater privileges within the site, such as acting as overruling editors and moderators of content. While this may seem hierarchical and counterpoint to the purpose of crowdsourcing, it acts as a way to find individuals with real skill and talent for what they do and allow for them to grow and showcase their skill doing something they are interested in. The “myth of the crowd” is fully aware of the less-than-adequate existence of most of the crowdsourcing contributors. This being said, it completely overlooks the existence of individuals that contribute sustenance to the cause and would have otherwise gone unnoticed if it weren’t for their crowdsourced efforts.

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    • efekete March 15, 2015 / 7:50 pm

      @bjuhasz10 I agree that the professional photographer can’t get mad when advances in technology happen. Especially when these advances allow individuals to tap into a market that was perviously unavailable. I believe the photographer went from selling 100 stock photos to selling 1,000. The downside to this was that his photos became greatly decreased in value, but now he has the potential to make that up by selling more in volume.

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    • ajmiros March 15, 2015 / 9:50 pm

      Wikipedia is a tremendous tool. It is probably the most used online source of information and its advantage over other sources is that its a live crowdsourced evolving source. However, as you point out, the user generated information cannot always be relied on as fact or viewed as accurate. As you also explain, many of the topics would go unnoticed by traditional research sources. The fact that (a small number) of users are creating essentially live content makes Wikipedia a valuable internet source.

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  2. bjuhasz10 March 12, 2015 / 4:43 pm

    I think in the grand scheme of things, crowd sourcing is definitely beneficial. Problems get solved faster, anybody can get involved, any more information is available.

    When Jeff Howe talks about Claudia Minashe being quoted for $600 dollars for 4 photos, I think the blame shouldn’t be directed at crowdsourcing such as iStockphoto for selling pictures for much cheaper. Instead, one of 2 things needs to happen. The original professional photographer either needs to decrease his prices, or find a new way to make a living. This might seem like a harsh stance on my part, but think of all the jobs available in the 1950’s that have been taken over by technology or don’t even exist anymore. Newspaper delivery, switchboard operators, factory machine operators, and many more. This article (http://www.computerworld.com/article/2691607/one-in-three-jobs-will-be-taken-by-software-or-robots-by-2025.html) even predicts that 1/3 jobs will be taken by software or robots in the next 10 years.

    All in all, the point I am trying to make is that crowdsourcing isn’t any different from other technologies. Certain jobs will become obsolete, but at the same time, new jobs will be created and invented. People that are adaptable and up to date with technology will prosper, and others will likely struggle.

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  3. Carly Hernandez March 12, 2015 / 4:49 pm

    I’m not sure if I think that the benefits outweigh the fact that many jobs are being crowdsourced. What I like about crowdsourcing though is that it can make you feel like a professional. Creating memes is a perfect example since anyone can do that and make all kinds of people famous. We don’t feel that we need to have a professional to do these things and that we can do them on our own. It depends on how you look at it though. I can definitely see that crowdsourcing hurts the professional, and in the long run it doesn’t really outweigh its benefits. You’re right, when people use websites like iStockphoto they are attributing to other businesses income when you could just pay a couple extra dollars to get the professional work and have it benefit them as well. There is a website called Canva where you can create invitations, business cards, flyers, etc. and be able to use their photos that they have without having to pay hundreds of dollars. They use general photos, like ones that photographers would take, and upload them to their website so that you can use them for a low fee. This is just like iStockphoto and I’m sure there are plenty of other websites that do the same thing. Almost every big business has their own way of crowdsourcing people, even Starbucks by creating a forum for customers to collaborate together on their ideas and vote on things that they like and dislike. It is not always best to turn to the amateurs in situations like these.

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    • eakoonter March 14, 2015 / 7:44 pm

      Carly,

      It’s terrible that business are stealing our ideas and laying off people that they should be paying to do it. I like that you bring up Starbucks as a company that crowdsources. It’s totally true and people don’t even realize it! You want people to see that you have that Starbucks logo on your coffee/tea cup. You pay $5 for a small coffee to “fit in”. You can also walk into a Starbucks and “make your own” drink. Let’s say you let your friend try your awesome creation and they love it! So, they go to Starbucks and order it. Then they let their friend try it and they repeat the cycle. Eventually, Starbucks is going to catch on and they’re going to steal your idea. What proof do you have that you created it? None. Therefore, now it belongs to Starbucks. It’s sad. You deserve profits or a deal of some sort from them, but nope. This is how crowdsourcing becomes harmful and takes money out of people’s pockets.

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  4. nebior March 13, 2015 / 1:40 pm

    I strongly feel that crowdsourcing is a great thing for everyone. It gives the people sitting at home something to do with their passions that is worthwhile. It helps people save money like in your stock photo example. Also, giving those people a chance to prove their worth can possibly help them land a job one day or it can continue being one of their favorite hobbies! In that scenario, the professional photographer gets hurt, but as I mentioned in another blog response, maybe if an amateur can provide his work for a lower fee then maybe the amateur should be the professional! In my opinion, if someone random can do a better job than someone you have to pay for then the wrong person is being paid to do the job. The stats about who is writing the Wikipedia articles always amaze me when I read them. It is so hard to believe that so much information is being created by so few people. Seeing as it is so hard to believe, I would lean to believe that a crowd is really responsible, but there seem to be plenty of facts supporting that it is really done by the few rather than the many.

    –Ben Walker

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  5. adrianhormsby March 13, 2015 / 6:38 pm

    Hi Emily, thank you for an excellent overview of this week’s reading. With regard to your question about the benefits of crowd sourcing outweighing it’s costs, this issue as you know is a complex one. As mentioned in your blog posting, the article by Dan Woods points out that Wikipedia, the poster child of crowd sourcing, is not the equal contribution of a large number of non-paid participants, but rather is dominated by a small but devoted core of contributors who also play a key role in editing and cleaning up the entire website. As a result, Wikipedia is becoming far more credible and accurate as a reference site, albeit not what one would define as having strong scholarly rigor. It is a great example, however, of how the internet provides opportunities for amateurs to make significant contributions to global knowledge and communications. Whether crowd sourcing will become the model that will replace the practice of hiring traditional employees is uncertain. Like many amateur and volunteer organizations that are open to multiple participants, over time the contributions gravitate to those with the most passion and zeal for the mission at hand. As an example, I am a contributor to an amateur astronomy organization called the AAVSO that enlists the help of amateur astronomers to monitor numerous variable stars in the night sky. Despite having hundreds of members, the vast majority of the data points are contributed by just a minority of volunteers. The business world is well aware of the fact that you get what you pay for, including employees. The quality issues that plagued Wikipedia at it’s inception would never be tolerated in the corporate world. Even now Wikipedia still suffers from perceived lack of credibility and scholarly rigor. Like many web concepts, there is always a gap between perceived potential and reality. Let’s hope that going forward, amateurs can continue to make significant contributions utilizing the almost limitless communications and access capability of the internet.

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  6. spgregor March 13, 2015 / 8:02 pm

    I do believe that crowdsourcing benefits outweigh the effects of potential job losses. Although that sounds cynical, think about it from a broad perspective. A Yahoo Answers forum, which could possibly help an infinite amount of people, can give quicker and less expensive explanations to problems than people who specialize certain areas or jobs. In today’s market, corporations are doing whatever they can to stay afloat and if they can save some money and possibly get a quicker answer by crowdsourcing why shouldn’t they? Technology is here to stay and I think we are going to continue to see it used more and more to the advantage of big business. However, I doubt that this will ever actually happen on a large scale. Some businesses may lose a few customers, but they will not lose their entire clientele. As far as the community goes, I think many people come together on the internet for similar purposes. As mentioned in the article, websites like Wikipedia have large functions that depend on individual contributions from subscribers. These subscribers can share their knowledge with people over time. This also applies to Ask.com, Yahoo Answers, ChaCha, Google Answers, and other websites of that nature. Some people actually post on these sites to provide solutions to others rather than to make a quick buck.

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  7. cseejay March 14, 2015 / 6:00 am

    I would also say that as a result substance with the addition of crowdsourcing has become problematic, as it’s difficult to acquire sources that accurately represent the content that one is looking for. But in the example given, under the circumstance given how does one justify paying such a large sum of money when you can get close to what you’re looking for, for basically free. My point is, you can at least work with $1, but $600, and things become more problematic. I think the reality is in situations similar to this one it’s necessary to join the club in some degree? Obviously if you specialize in selling various types of $600 photos then, if the market no longer demand photos of that quality I think this is where you craft out a market and create necessity for something that niche. Ultimately I think in examples like this are basically gone, as others have stated if people are so good at their profession, someone will want to their skills and it’s up to them to market their skills in a way that will insure then success. I think a focus could be, should corporations pay amateurs more money, thus hopefully helping everyone the make more money.

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  8. mvzang March 14, 2015 / 12:25 pm

    First off, great blog. There are many things to be said about crowdsourcing. In a perfect world where people had the highest of intentions to help or assist the highest amount of people, crowdsourcing would be an effective way to complete this task. Unfortunately there will always be the people that add knowledge (sometimes by no fault of their own) that is just plain incorrect, or the person that adds incorrect information to sites like Wikipedia with ill-intentions. There will always have to be safeguards in place in order to protect these sites from those with malicious intentions, which leads me to my next point.

    During the recent depression in the economy, business had to come up with ways to slash costs. The easiest and generally the most expensive is cutting jobs. In most businesses, employees’ wages and benefits packages make up the most expensive cost of conducting business. Many companies have looked to tactics such as crowdsourcing to make up for the loss of employees. Like Carr says in one of our articles “free trumps quality all the time” (I know you cited that line as well). These sites and companies try and provide the same products and services the cheapest way possible, and free is the cheapest way to go. So as long as crowdsourcing and collaborations on the internet keep taking place for free, I wouldn’t look for things to change anytime soon.

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  9. galaradi March 15, 2015 / 1:20 pm

    I think the benefits of crowdsourcing outweigh the negatives. We have so many resources online now that we can benefit from, as consumers. Outlets such as Netflix and Apple TV have replaced the traditional Television. The concept of “on-demand” TV shows and movies has become more popular than watching regular television with commercials. The way we use the Internet is changing with our daily lives.

    Crowdsourcing is just an outcome of the way the Internet has become a big part of our lives. We will learn to adapt to new, useful, faster, ways to gain information, be entertained, or buy products. Sure, there is always going to be someone who will suffer, but those businesses can evolve and adapt to the changes happening in our digital world. They don’t have to completely fail as businesses, but they can change the way they sell their products, since everything has become available online.

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  10. blcarr March 15, 2015 / 6:24 pm

    Nobody wants to stand out. Everyone wants to fit in. When it comes to crowd sourcing, it’s like playing follow the leader. All it takes is one brave sole to step out on a limb and everybody else will pursue. Look at blockbuster and Barnes & noble. They went under do to technology advances. Thanks to Netflix and eBooks, companies have no need to hire employees. They basically hire one person to run the website which is making them tons of dollars by subscribers and they are paying some person chump change to monitor the server. Every businessman dream is to cut cost while making money.

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  11. mwiedmeyer March 15, 2015 / 6:51 pm

    Wikipedia is such an interesting example of crowdsourcing. As the articles are more closely monitored, Wikipedia is becoming a more and more valid source of information. I can’t tell you how frequently I come upon a subject in conversation that I want to know more about, so I bring up my Wikipedia app on my phone and search it. In your post, you mention that most articles are created by a motivated individual, someone with a reason for making the page. That makes sense to me. Of course if you’re spending your time publicizing something by creating a Wikipedia page, you care about it. The crowds that come in and police the articles are the solution to that problem.
    Another Wikipedia-related problem comes when people or organizations try to clean up their own Wikipedia page retroactively, like the recent discovery of the NYPD watering down the sections of their page that have to do with racism (http://bit.ly/18PSlfV). Thanks to vigilance by Wikipedia users and a quick IP search, they got worse publicity than they would have if they just left it alone. Sites that are crowdsourced need the crowd to function, and I don’t think it’s always a negative thing.

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  12. jaemillz411 March 15, 2015 / 8:44 pm

    I am on the fence about whether or not crowdsourcing is a good thing. I love the idea of a participatory culture, where people regardless of status can create something and have a voice in the world. However, I believe that our society is being flooded with too many voices.

    This is dangerous because people can start to believe opinions as fact. There is nothing wrong with being an amateur, trying to create a place in the world for yourself. It becomes a problem when your word trumps an expert without any findings to back up your claim. For instance, on Youtube a lot of creators have a disclaimer before they recommend a product or idea. They acknowledge that they are not professionals. (And some of them are even sponsored by companies).

    Crowdsourcing seems harmless on the surface, but the whole concept is complex. I think that the ‘myth of the crowd’ is real in certain context. However, businesses take advantage of the concept and exploit it at the expense of their employees and for their financial benefit. But there are still companies who take crowdsourcing seriously (Wikipedia being one of them) and it is those companies that I think will make a true difference in the participatory culture.

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  13. seananthony3 March 15, 2015 / 9:09 pm

    Crowdsourcing is more beneficial than not, I’d say. A culture being together to produce more products feels like a tighter knit community rather than a bunch of business fighting each other. There are of course people who will be manipulated to source a project they are not completely sure of. But, the word gets out quickly on what you can and can’t trust. The internet as a whole seems to be eliminating the middle man when it comes to businesses, and that doesn’t seem like a bad thing in the long run at all.

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  14. rmpaulk March 15, 2015 / 9:36 pm

    I can see both sides of the argument on whether or not crowdsourcing is good or not. I do think the benefits outweigh the loss of jobs, though. As a consumer you should always been checking around for who can do the same job for cheaper. We shouldn’t be paying more unless the quality or quantity is more. As a producer you need to evaluate your job. If someone is doing it for cheaper you need to look into how that is possible. Could there be a way for you to cut costs in certain areas so that your price is more competitive? And if there isn’t is there a reason your price is so high? Do you use higher quality materials, do you have better incentives, is there more that your price covers over the competition? If you do, then you need to promote and lead your sale with those in mind. “It may cost more for my stock photo, but you get it in three different size, this kind of license, and in this high of resolution.” Explain why your price is so high. Like I said, as a consumer you need to be looking for the cheapest price that will offer you the best quality and quantity that you can afford or are looking for. I think that there is a true “myth of the crowd”. For example, with Wikipedia ANYBODY can go on and edit it, but few actually do. When you are told that anyone can do something few actually do, because the “need” isn’t there. If you were told that ONLY paying members could edit, more people would pay because now they are part of an “exclusive” section. It just like with a free admission museum. Anybody can come and enjoy it, but few actually do, and then you hear on the news that not enough people are visiting the museum for it to continue to get funding.

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  15. lewenzel93 March 15, 2015 / 9:39 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. So, in your example about the stock photos, 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.

    As far as your question about the “myth of the crowd” goes, it’s hard to really 100% trust everything you read on the internet. Since it’s so easy to be anonymous and not be held accountable for it, who really knows if the guy who is editing Wikipedia articles has solid and accurate information.

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  16. sneff16 March 15, 2015 / 9:43 pm

    I think that the benefits outweigh the negatives when it comes to crowdsourcing. Photographers have been overcharging for a long time. When technology changes, it is important to change with it or be left behind. Mark Harmel can sell thousands of the same photos online for less instead of charging a few people a ton. People don’t want to pay any more than they have to. While large businesses have caught on and are using the concept to make even larger profits, crowdsourcing has helped average people and businesses by providing services that they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford.

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  17. smkiraco March 15, 2015 / 11:14 pm

    With any new piece of technology or breakthrough otherwise there is always the risk of people losing their jobs, but I believe that the population as a whole benefits from such advances. Crowdsourcing is no different. While there are people who have lost their jobs, which is definitely unfortunate, many others benefit from the lowered costs and many find find jobs in new or improved fields. Kickstarter is a great example. There are many groups of people, or sometimes individuals, who cannot afford the production and development costs of their projects and allows the “crowd” to help with donations or in some cases employment. For instance, there are many video games in development that would otherwise never make it past the conceptual stage.

    As for the “myth of the crowd,” I think it is fairly accurate. Crowdsourcing is more of a buzzword than an accurate description of this type of collaboration in my opinion. There is much code out there that is open-source but not everyone who is knowledgeable of its existence or even its function contributes to its development. In other words, I believe that motivation is a large part of people’s contribution as it is with most anything.

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  18. thegradytrain March 15, 2015 / 11:34 pm

    I think the pros of Crowdsourcing far outweigh the cons at this stage. Just the other day I saw a great idea called PancakeBot which is now on Kickstarter. PancakeBot allows you to create digital art and turn it into pancakes via a 3D printer filled with pancake batter. Without Kickstarter this and other great ideas would not have a chance. Since I am an active gamer I see plenty of great game ideas get funded and developed and the finished products are great. You get this unique sense of attachment to the product as well that you wouldn’t normally get from straight buying it off the market.

    With the “Myth of the crowd”, it is understandable to see this appear. I remember when Wikipedia got a lot of crap for being a crowdsourced encyclopedia and having the strong potential for vandalism and abuse. Wikipedia has gotten through that phase and I still have never seen to this day a page that had incorrect or abused information. With other issues surrounding products from everyday people, I don’t really find a problem. If I was looking for a professional looking solution and got it from crowdsourcing at a cheaper price than going to an actual professional developer, I would not be complaining. If it is from an everyday person than so be it, obviously his/her solution works better for me than someone else. With crowdfunding sites, I think it is best to not get too invested into a single product because of the risks. I don’t frequently browse Kickstarter for the next big things, but if I see an idea I really like and find that I can directly receive a fair return on investment, I have no problem throwing money at it. This usually doesn’t require a contribution greater than $20-$30. With investments greater than those, I get a little anxious about it.

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  19. akuelbs March 15, 2015 / 11:52 pm

    I believe that the myth of crowdsourcing only being an indiviudal and not a group of people is just that, a myth. Yes, there are circumstances in which individuals will create products or content in their free time, but there are a lot of projects out there that take more than one individual to create them. And by this, i see this solely as a myth. If you look at how crowdsourcing has changed our society over the years, i think that it is a great change because it has helped take ideas and theories, got them a backing, and then allowed for them to be researched or created with great success. I’m not saying that every time something is created it is a success, but if you look at something that have been created, i think it is for the better. Crowdsourcing is a result of an ever changing world in which people want to put their talents to use and companies dont mind trying to save a couple bucks here and there. Its just how society is and i feel ultimately society and corporations are the sole reason crowdsourcing has stayed alive and thrived. We like what it has created and what has come of it and want more of it.

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  20. hessaj March 15, 2015 / 11:59 pm

    Crowdsourcing is definitely an expansion to heightening your career, especially online. You might specialize something in particular, but crowdsourcing another person in another expertise to help you with whatever you are doing as a whole, can help you and them as well. Kickstarter being a great example, I’ve helped kickstarted a couple projects, one small and one huge. The bigger one having the donators help choose what they want, design, and interact with the community, it is pretty awesome.

    As for the myth, I think it applies to crowdsourcing, using kickstarter as an example again, not necessarily getting people on board for the project, but the community itself bring awareness to this project and it spread like wildfire, and with every update, the project is anticipated even more upon release. In terms of crowdsourcing, it’s expanding whatever you’re doing to grow and branch out.

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