We launched the first-ever crowdsourcing platform in 2001 with two simple questions. First, could it be possible to design a transparent and reputable rating system for developers similar to the ranking method used by chess players at tournaments worldwide? For readers who are not avid chess fans, this ranking system allows chess players of any level to earn rankings reflecting their skill simply by challenging other competitors during official tournaments. If it was possible to apply such a ranking system to the world of coding, we wanted to know whether companies could use it to access the developers they needed to accomplish digital work.
What started as a wild thought experiment in 2001 is now commonly known as crowdsourcing. The method involves open calls to global groups of skilled workers to solve a problem or complete a task, and it is standard procedure across the web today. Because of its capacity to leverage the power of the crowd, the system is widely used by businesses in many industries. To leverage crowdsourcing successfully, a platform must create processes that ensure quality, find ways to manage the crowd effectively, and offer financial incentives that motivate participation.
How Crowdsourcing Drives Quality
One of the strengths of crowdsourcing is how the process brings together ideas from a diverse community. But when a platform incorporates over one million members and spans all levels of expertise, how can it maintain the benefits of its magnitude without compromising the quality of its results? How can the platform entice new members to participate, learn, and develop skills until they reach a level ready to contribute? Competition is the answer.
Most crowdsourcing platforms are merit-based, meaning members earn their rank by participating in challenges and/or completing work. In these models, members compete to earn not just prize money but verified skill badges and a higher ranking on the platform. Members who do not win can still gain valuable experience from competing, practicing their skills, and seeing the winning submission to learn and improve next time. Further, members who want to learn can ask other competitors for input and scrutinize the winning submissions to gain improved strategies and better ideas. How well members enjoy competition determines whether they will be attracted to the platform and how quickly they will progress. With a growth mindset and an openness to learning, members who lose a challenge usually leverage that experience to perform better in the next one.
Effective crowdsourcing platforms share a specific philosophy that enables them to attract top talent and quick learners. The most successful crowdsourcing projects include a culture in which experts welcome outside viewpoints and curiosity pushing them to solve complex problems. These platforms draw in members who thrive in an environment of tough competition and appreciate the chance to pursue their interests and learn along the way.
While traditional hiring strategies place a premium on experience, the crowdsourcing model emphasizes skills, performance, and outcome. This crucial difference can potentially eliminate discrimination from the hiring process completely by rendering geographic location, sex, age, disability status, and race irrelevant. From day one, members test their skills on real-world problems and in competitive challenges. They opt-in to challenges that interest them and earn money based on the outcomes they create.
To generate top-quality solutions, a crowdsourcing platform has to be expansive. An inclusive and skills-based environment is the key to attracting a large enough community to maintain consistent quality.
How Crowdsourcing Generates Ideas and Solutions
A global community of 1 million experts and newcomers eager to learn is an exciting concept, but finding ways to harness that potential can be challenging. How can a crowd of this scope be leveraged consistently and effectively? How can all the combined power of their efforts be turned in the same direction? How can the crowdsourcing model offer benefits that motivate everyone in such a large community?
Crowdsourcing platforms are not a monolith, but there are two standard processes that many of them use to tap their members' power to get work done: Talent as a Service (TaaS) and Enterprise Crowdsourcing.
TaaS allows companies to request specific talent from a crowdsourcing platform. For example, if a business requires four AngularJS developers for the next three months, a crowdsourcing platform can offer freelancers with that verified skill. These members are chosen based on their ranking and the work they have already demonstrated for previous clients. Businesses manage the freelancers they hire as direct resources and can incorporate those workers into their own Microsoft Teams, Slacks, or Git environments.
The other way crowdsourcing platforms get work done is known as Enterprise Crowdsourcing. This method differs from the TaaS method in that much heavy lifting is done during crowdsourcing challenges. These challenges are open competitions hosted and executed on crowdsourcing platforms. Unlike the TaaS method, Enterprise Crowdsourcing does not require businesses to manage the talent in order to generate the solutions they need. Instead, the crowdsourcing platform provides what we call platform architects. These individuals have a critical role in the process. They learn the businesses’ needs and design challenges that engage the crowdsourcing community.
Platform architects break down the businesses’ project requirements into activities for challenges. Crowdsourcing platforms have termed this process atomization. This process offers several benefits for both the community members and the clients. By dividing a large project into smaller components, the crowdsourcing method is able to reduce the workload of any single individual effectively. Dividing up a substantial project also allows crowdsourcing platforms to execute multiple challenges simultaneously and dramatically speed up the project's timeframe.
Yet another benefit of the Enterprise Crowdsourcing model is its ability to access a wide range of tech skills. A traditional enterprise project involves many more skills than any developer typically has. When businesses call on crowdsourcing platforms to break the work into chunks and host it as small competitions, they can receive the expertise of top talent working on every aspect of the project. In addition, since the work is completed through open competitions, companies receive solutions from several of the platform’s strongest contributors. They can choose to implement whichever solution best fits their project’s needs.
Calling on the combined skills of the crowdsourcing community is the key differentiator separating the TaaS method from Enterprise Crowdsourcing. While using TaaS, clients pay for the time of one or more freelancers and manage their workloads. When utilizing Enterprise Crowdsourcing, clients pay for outcomes. If they do not receive the results they hoped for from the crowdsourcing community, they do not pay.
How Crowdsourcing Can Offer Financial Incentives
Crowdsourcing community members come to learn, but they also have the opportunity to receive financial compensation for their skills. The third challenge of crowdsourcing is providing monetary incentives to motivate such a large and diverse group. This challenge lies in building a reputable community with enough members to offer the outcomes businesses need. Once the platform proves to companies that the community has the verified skills and processes in place to generate top-quality solutions, the means of compensating the members follows naturally. Still, how can a crowdsourcing platform attract skilled members before establishing a solid customer base?
As mentioned earlier, one of the main strengths of the crowdsourcing method is its tendency to attract quick and eager learners who want to advance in their skills and knowledge. Today's evolving digital economy requires a workforce that is always upskilling. Therefore, crowdsourcing platforms may be more desirable to businesses because they offer more skills and expertise in one place than can be found in a finite number of hires.
Most crowdsourcing platforms are marketplace businesses that connect a group in need of a solution with a group that can provide it. For example, crowdsourcing might click a person in need of a ride with a gig worker driving a car. In another instance, crowdsourcing may connect a business needing a logo with a graphic designer.
Crowdsourcing and marketplace businesses have expanded to every conceivable need and niche, including innovation. Opening up tough business problems to the collective creativity of the crowd is just smart. Why have just one brilliant mind on your project when you could have 1.6 million? Businesses of all sizes can benefit from crowdsourcing because of its flexibility and innovation access. Members with diverse backgrounds and skill sets can access growth and earning opportunities, and customers across various industries access the community to accelerate innovation.
Yes, there are certainly a number of challenges inherent to the crowdsourcing method: organizing and mobilizing a large group of people over the internet is not easy. There will be challenges to overcome when anyone attempts to put this method to work, but in our experience, the results prove worth the effort.