Crowdsourcing for Every Occasion

I recently spoke at an event called Crowdopolis. The topic was crowdsourcing. This has become one of the hot buzzwords in business. Companies of all sizes are dipping their toes into crowdsourcing.

But what is it really? Well, crowdsourcing is a lot of different things and can’t easily by lumped into one small bucket.

Here are a few of the crowdsourcing variations (and this is not a complete list):

  • Solution Finding: This is where you use a crowd to solve a complex problem. Are you looking to develop a glass for the next iPhone that won’t smudge? Ask a crowd to see if they have a solution. InnoCentive and BrightIdea are two platforms that help` companies solve these types of problems (the latter is the engine behind GE’s ecoimagination initiative).
  • Opinion Seeking – Crowds can be used, of course, to provide input and suggestions on how to improve your product. SurveyMonkey is a low-end version of this in action. is a more sophisticated version that runs on’s “ideas” platform.
  • Content Creation – Want to create an advertisement for your company but don’t want to hire a single design agency? Why not hire the world? Companies like Doritos have done this for their Super Bowl commercials with great success. Platforms like Tongal help companies crowdsource the creation of videos. News broadcasters are also doing this to help collect videos from individuals who shoot newsworthy footage on their iPhone.
  • Design Competitions – Need a new logo? You don’t need to hire just one person from an agency or (which is also a form of crowdsourcing, even though you only get one person doing the work, you get multiple people to bid on the work), you can use or to get hundreds of designs for the price of one. You select the one logo you like and pay only that one designer.
  • Data Collection – This is a growing area of crowdsourcing. Instead of sending your employees out to inspect buildings, shelves in super markets, or potentially even read meters, get anyone to do it. For example, when someone is in a supermarket, have them snap a picture of your product on the shelves. This gives you insights into stocking levels and product placement, and the GPS tracking will give you the location without the need for tagging. Think of this as more data for your big data.
  • Manual Tasks – This is outsourcing on steroids.’s Mechanical Turk is an example of this. Break up your work into bite-sized chunks and get people to do these activities for pennies. There are many platforms for doing this in all shapes and sizes. Although it is not technically a crowdsourcing platform, one of my favorites websites is; a site where people will do almost anything for $5.
  • Testing – Do you have something you want to test? uTest is a great platform for this. They can beat the heck out of your website looking for bugs, usability issues, or anything else. You can get hundreds of people banging on your system to stress it and test it.
  • Customer service – What if you could get your fans to be customer service employees? Platforms like allow your most knowledgable customers to provide help to your entire customer base. If your customers have a technical problem, instead of speaking to an employee, they can be routed to one of these knowledgable fans. Think of this is a virtual “geek squad” or “genius bar.”
  • Programming – One of my favorite crowdsourcing platforms is TopCoder. This is truly amazing. They have nearly a half million programmers, designers, testers and program managers who compete to create wireframes, designs, code, and algorithms, and then test everything for customers. This is one of the best end-to-end solutions out there.
  • Crowd funding – Need money for an initiative or cause? Crowdfunding may be the way. Platforms like enable people to raise money for their projects. There are platforms for raising money for non-profits. And now there is the emerging version which can allow for micro-angel investing.

As you can tell, crowdsourcing can be leveraged in many ways.

It is important to note that crowdsourcing is not THE answer. It is only a tool. You need to make sure you understand what you want to achieve and then determine if this approach is appropriate. Too many organizations have tried crowdsourcing, thinking it was a silver bullet, only to be wildly disappointed. Having said that, when used properly, it can reduce costs, timeframes, and risk, while providing high quality solutions.

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Stephen ShapiroStephen Shapiro is the author of five books including “Best Practices Are Stupid” and “Personality Poker” (both published by Penguin). He is also a popular innovation speaker and business advisor.

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No Comments

  1. Praveen on March 25, 2013 at 5:15 am

    Thanks for the list of Crowdsourcing platforms. I would also like to add for Science Enthusiast, where solutions to some of the worlds toughest problems are crowdsourced.

    Also, for Crowd Testing, I would also recommend and, both provide a great platforms for getting software products tested in real world conditions.

  2. Stephen Shapiro on March 25, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Praveen, I had InnoCentive under “solution finding.” BUt 99tests and mob4hire are great additions. Thanks!

  3. Markku N on March 26, 2013 at 5:33 am

    Thanks for the article! Crowdsourcing is a great way to find solutions to well defined challenges and to acquire customer insight among many other applications.
    You mention that your list is not complete. Would you have a more complete list available? Thanks in advance!

  4. Stephen Shapiro on March 28, 2013 at 10:34 am

    Markku, I am not sure a comprehensive list is even possible. People are crowdsoucing baby names. Basically anything you would ask a colleague or friends to do can be down via crowdsourcing. It is important to note that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should! Crowdsourcing is NOT useful for everything. And most organizations use crowdsourcing as nothing more than glorified suggestion boxes; and this is NOT a good use of the crowd. Plus, I do not believe that crowds are wise. Therefore using them to vote may not be a good idea either. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Patrick Rafter on April 2, 2013 at 8:26 am

    Appreciate your mention/inclusion of CrowdEngineering ( in your recap of Crowdopolis. Particularly like your description of crowdsourcing for customer service as “getting your fans to be customer service employees” and a virtual ‘geek squad'”. In fact engaging and enlisting external partners and customers to provide answers, advice and tips to their peers (other customers) has an added benefit…. As Gartner has observed—employing customer service reps to provide phone support ( through in-house our outsourced call centers) is expensive, and shifting customer care to peer-to-peer online support (such as CrowdEngineering’s Crowd4Care) can reduce the cost of service delivery up to 50%.

    Keep the good posts coming. Look forward to reading more.

  6. Bert Réveil on June 25, 2013 at 8:26 am

    Dear Steve

    Insightful division you made here. One more to include in your list perhaps: Venture Spirit. Considering the current categories, I guess we fit best under “Solution Finding”.
    To make the crowdsourcing activity even more successful, we throw in gamification (another hot buzz word) as a powerful accelerant.

    Best regards

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