Thursday, May 20, 2010

Crowdsourcing - Where Art Meets Community

Creative forms of crowdsourcing have shown up in a multitude of venues recently. In just the past couple weeks, examples include everything from developing "the ULTIMATE compost-related product" through Quirky's current Compostalooza Competition -- to an experiment by WIRED Magazine to have its dot-com readers crowdsource a song using Indaba Music, "whose collaborative digital-audio-workstation platform, Mantis, allows musicians and amateurs all over the world to collaborate on the same piece of music for free."

The goal: Get a community together, centered around one purpose, and you can witness amazing results.

Such is the case with the crowdsourced video for Johnny Cash's final recording, "Ain't No Grave." In a recent 'Boards Magazine article, Kevin Ritchie talks with director Chris Milk about The Johnny Cash Project, where fans have contributed over 4,500 pieces of artwork to create a "living portrait of the Man in Black". Archival footage of the singer was collected by Milk and legendary producer, Rick Rubin, and then edited into a video, where contributors can illustrate over single frames. The result: a beautiful living piece, that can take new shape every time it's viewed.

Seattle-based and global crowdsourcing company, Zooppa, can admire such handiwork and knows all too well the creative power of a large crowd. Its own community of over 60,000-strong has produced TV, print, and online ads for such brands as Pillsbury, GoDaddy, Microsoft, and Nike, and the company is currently managing competitions for Universal Studios and the country of South Africa.

So, what exactly is "crowdsourcing?" By definition, it's ... well, it's new enough that doesn't have an explanation. But it has been around for several years, as the term was coined by author, Jeff Howe, in his 2006 WIRED magazine article,
The Rise of Crowdsourcing. According to Wikipedia, "Crowdsourcing is a neologistic compound of "crowd" and "outsourcing" for the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor to a large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open call."

In the marketing world, it's asking a community of passionate consumers and/or aspiring artists to develop creative concepts to help advertise a company's brand or its product. For a group like Zooppa, they broker the creative development process between this community and the brand by providing "a platform for user-generated advertising" where "talented people from all over the world can meet, exchange ideas and share their creative work." Earlier this year, I wrote about two companies, Doritos and CareerBuilder, which each employed crowdsourcing to develop content for their Super Bowl ads.

Does this mean the beginning of the end of design and creativity as we know it? Not likely, but there is skepticism among professionals, who have studied and worked at a craft in which they are highly specialized, and turning over the reigns in part to the masses. What's the takeaway then for the marketing and advertising industry? Know what crowdsourcing is. And realize it could be an interesting, and inexpensive, way to generate new ideas when working with clients.


  1. I think it's important that collective works not be confused with crowd sourcing.

    To be clear "crowd sourcing" is not a 100 people each contributing a piece of an idea or product... Crowd sourcing is submitting a need to a 100 people and letting the 100 people "bid" or vie for the opportunity for one of them to do it.

    Collective work = ONE Book/ONE Twitter, The Johnny Cash Project, DMOZ, open-source software ( ), User Generated Content (UGC, ala LOL Cats and

    Crowd Sourcing is asking independent contractors to bid on the opportunity to do the work, oftentimes AFTER the work has been done and the solicitor getting a chance to select the solution they like the best.

    Crowd sourcing reverses the typical flow from a business/employer paying for work before it is done, often by an employee that may or may not be the best person to do it and instead facilitates multiples of people whom think they're the best, bidding for the chance to do the work.

    Often bidders produce the work, *then try to sell it to the solicitor*.

    Witness, etc.

    It IS a HUGE paradigm shift that has SERIOUS repercussions for creative types. I've crowd-sourced several of the last graphic arts projects I've had, including a branding campaign (magazine ads, Web page design, etc.) for $300-$500 TOTAL costs for projects that graphics designers quoted me for $5-10k.

    Why the hell would I spend $10k for a design I may or may not like... when I get 300 designs submitted TO ME, that I get to vote on... then help direct the development of the process... for $500!?

    On the positive side, it also has the HUGE effect of democratizing the market place... independents and lesser known (but brilliant) producers now have as equal a chance at getting their work out there (and paid for) as do the superstars and established.

    Like it or leave it, it IS coming and it's a new way of doing business; adapt of die. Unless the dinosaurs (surely, none of us in OCA!) adapt to the times, they will quickly go extinct...

  2. Mark -
    Point taken on the ONE Book / ONE Twitter example, as previously depicted in the post. (I jumped the gun when I highlighted an interesting way to use social media to collectively read a book, as I'd found it on Jeff Howe's blog.) As you'll see, I've since swapped it with a different example.

    To this end, however, the new example is from Wired Magazine, and similar to The Johnny Cash Experiment, is one that I would argue IS crowdsourcing at its finest. We can debate the semantics of the definition, but I believe 'collective work' can be 'crowdsourced.' I view the definition as that of using a community (working together or individually) to help solve a problem / perform a task. The 'problem' can be that of creating a branded advertising piece, as you have done, (where individuals had bid against each other). Or, as in the case of The Johnny Cash Project, the 'problem' could be that of illustrating a video, one frame at a time - which would have had to have been done by someone. And in this example, the result is a collective work.
    If we include, as you mention, the notion of the bid, some crowdsourced projects are simply done with an asking price of $0 - with payment being the reward of having worked on something truly unique.

  3. Search on this just a little and you'll see that it's already caused a lot of problems for marketers. Mostly copyright infringement and plagiarism, in some cases leaving the clients with no recourse. There are big risks.

    The rule here is that you get what you pay for. Social Media hasn't changed that.

  4. Crowdsourcing has become a topic of heated debate in Seattle.

    AIGA took a strong stance against it for the Bumbershoot Festival's logo contest and our Ad 2 Communications Director also got an email from Jeff Barlow (Seattle AIGA President) informing us that it was a bad idea when we wanted to hold a similar competition.

  5. Breaking news: AP Stylebook updated with social media terms including a definition of "crowdsourcing".

    Back to the discussion: If the biggest risks crowdsourcing faces is the potential for copyright infringement and plagiarism, then those being replaced by crowdsourcing REALLY have problems - because risk can be managed; and if crowdsourcing results in a perceived better product, for a perceived better price, at a perceived low risk... then it's worth it.

    To be frank, what I'd REALLY like to hear is "crowdsourcing can't replace the QUALITY"... cause in my mind, if price is the only factor... price will win out every time. (And by "quality", I DON'T mean of the picture... read on for what I do mean...)

    Crowdsourcing IS unconventional, but I know I'll probably get more guff when I suggest that it's mainly the dinosaurs who will have the toughest time with it.

    No one likes to be replaced, particularly when you've worked long and hard to develop your skills. I get that. I watched my dad get laid off after 30 years on the job and 5 years from retirement. But that's the old economy and that doesn't exist anymore.

    Paradigm shift is always hard for those unable or unwilling to evolve (talk to the industrial workers who have had their jobs outsourced).

    Megan, thanks for the additional article. Re the article's leading point: ""Imagine if it were attorney's [you were crowdsourcing]" ROTFLMAO Attorneys DO crowdsource - they just don't tell the client!

    Legal work is a COMMODITY. This primary principle was how I doubled the size of the last law firm I was DM for and increased income by 400%... and the faster attorneys GET IT, the faster they'll move on to a product BEYOND "legal advice" that DESERVES top dollar.

    Graphic Artist? Marketer? Composer? Guess what...? If your top product is a picture, an idea or a song... YOU have problems. THAT is NOT what people pay for. They pay to be moved. Move them... and you can get whatever price you ask.