31 Jul 2011 16:01 | Deleted user
Crowdsourcing in action:
How to get 200 proposals in 10 days

By Corina Ciechanow, IT professional with a scientific background

Mrs. Corina Ciechanow- IT professional with a scientific background.>

Crowdsourcing is a new term that literally means ‘outsourcing tasks to a crowd’. A crowd is a large and diverse group of people, which converges to a website to offer their services, or to participate in a collective enterprise. You will tap into that collectivity to request that they achieve a certain goal. The participants will expect a reward: it can be paying for the work or a prize where only the best wins the award.  Participants may even do it for free, just for the recognition. 

Having established my company not long ago, and still needing a good logo for it, I contacted Iamasource, one of those crowdsourcing sites specialised in graphic design. This company allows you to post a request for a logo, a website design and other image branding work a company may need.  They suggest a minimum prize for each type of work, and you can decide to offer more if you want to attract more participants. 

I opted for the proposed amount, and requested a ‘logo & stationery’ for 300€.  I described the purpose of my company, what I wanted to convey as an image through the logo, and all the characteristics I could think of, such as my preferences in colors and styles (did I want something traditional, modern, funny, classy?).  This website acts as escrow for the designer, so it requests you to pay the prize and their fee in advance. They keep the money until you decide who's the winner.  And if they fail to provide you with at least 10 proposals to choose from, they give you your money back.  

So there I was, trying to describe what I would like the logo to convey. I can tell you it is not an easy task when your company has not a clear product to sell, or when you are selling yourself, with all your different facets …

So after an afternoon of projecting yourself and your company into the future, you think that's it, you have done your job. Then you have to rest during the 10 days of the contest, waiting for great proposals to be presented to you....At least that’s what I would have loved.  Having a busy life, I hoped that crowdsourcing this task would take the burden away from me... If you’ve ever had an entrepreneur doing some work in your house, you know what I'm talking about, and you know it's never like that!
The next day, I was happily browsing through 20 proposals, but sometimes wondering after all my effort in defining what I liked, if any of the designers took the time to read it, if I could redo it in a clearer way...Some were potentially good, so I wrote excitedly to the designers, asking them to change the typography in some cases, colour in others, giving feedback for them to improve it. 

Busy with my other activities, 3 days were gone before I checked the site again.  To my surprise, there where 173 designs to evaluate! And to make it worse, the designers had posted questions that needed a decision, fighting for getting it right.  You have to be there; they need your feedback, and get anxious if you don't answer them.  Finally they are working for you! But dealing with a 100 designers at the same time plus your normal activities like work and family, takes time. 

After that, they began competing amongst themselves: there is a system through which they can denounce one of the proposals as a copycat; you have to check this for yourself the accuracy of the allegation.  You also have to deal with the intellectual property registration in your country.  They also have a peer-voting system for the best design, giving you the chance to have their professional opinion.  And that helped. At the end of the contest I got over 248 proposals, 10 which I really liked.  It was difficult deciding between them.  

All in all, I got such a great variety of proposals from crowdsourcing without moving from home, much more than  I could have expected if I had pursued the ‘usual way’ of doing it.  My problems were basically related to my lack of time, doing it after work, late at night when you have no more courage after putting the children to sleep, but all those problems would have been the same had I contacted a classical graphics company.

After having tested it, I’m more than convinced that crowdsourcing is a business model that is here to stay.  As I got more than 200 logo proposals in 10 days, you can use it to reach talent from everywhere in no time and at a low or more than reasonable cost.  In particular, it is suitable for mass or collaborative work.  Like the Galaxay Zoo project, where they requested the crowd to analyze Hubble images to help them classify galaxies.  If you have a repetitive or big task to be done on documents, go to Microtask or CloudCrowd website, they have a crowd ready to do simple editing and translation tasks.  For more complex problems, try Innocentive, it is another crowdsourcing site where the crowd generally has more expertise, they are good at  problem solving.  Many other websites have since emerged, allowing people to reach millions of designers as I did, testers, writers, and even getting funding (fansNextDoor, microVentures)!

This use of crowdsourcing is just the visible part of the iceberg: having access to a large number of people, why would they only be suppliers? They could also be targeted as consumers. Lays asked for their consumer’s best flavour and got a million answers from across India… Look how cost effective it is: on the one hand the cost of the contest plus the prize and on the other identifying (usually tested by sampling) what the users want, plus the cost of the promotion campaign, plus the risk of failing to find what their consumers wanted?

But wait, there is still another twist that will benefit all of us!  If you are interested, you are kindly invited to my crowdsourcing presentation event organized by PWI Brussels after the summer holidays!

Corina Ciechanow was a professor and researcher in Machine Learning, a field of Artificial Intelligence, and worked as IT consultant for international organizations as EU and PNUD. She runs now her own company, Waterloo Hills, where she provides expertise in project management and information discovery.  

She writes at about Internet and data-related emerging issues to create awareness of their implication in our businesses or just in our lives.
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