The Future of Crowdsourcing: Creation to Curation, Search to Synthesis, Content to Things

As part of MSLGROUP‘s recent Future of Engagement report (Kindle, SlideShare report, SlideShare deck, Visually, YouTube), I wrote (with Pascal Beucler and Nidhi Makhija) about various models build upon crowdsourcing, including: Co-creation CommunitiesCollaborative Social InnovationSocial CurationCollective IntelligenceCrowdfunding and Collaborative Consumption

We don’t always think of all these models as crowdsourcing, but, in my recent talk at CrowdSourcing Week, I argued for a broader definition for crowdsourcing and shared a new framework on how the center of gravity in crowdsourcing is shifting (i) in terms of input: from creation to curation, (ii) in terms of output: from search to synthesis, and (iii) in terms of focus: from content to things.

Future of Crowdsourcing

1. Input: From Creation to Curation

I believe that the center of gravity in crowdsourcing is shifting from creation-driven crowdsourcing models to curation-driven crowdsourcing models.

While creation-driven crowdsourcing platforms that activate community members to create original content for challenges will continue to be relevant, curation-driven crowdsourcing platforms that curate content that already exists on the social web (or on community members’ hard drives) will become more important.

For instance, 99Designs (videoLogo Store) and DesignCrowd (videoBrandCrowd) not only runs contests for its community of designers to create new logos, but also curate and sell ready-made customizable logos. Similarly, ImageBrief (video) connects creatives with photographers, who handpick images from their hard drives to match the brief.

Corporations and media organizations are also adopting a three-part content strategy, built around creating some compelling original content, curating related content from the social web, and crowdsourcing derivative content from community members. Social curation software like StoryStream (slide deck), Percolate (video), Mass Relevance (video), CurationStation (video), Olapic (video) and PublishThis (video) enable such three-part content strategies.

These platforms make it easy for people to make sense of the curated content by using different dynamic visualizations, like streams or grids that showcase popular content, or maps that display content based on location, or data visualizations that uncover patterns in content. They also enable community members to follow people, vote on options, share content, add comments or updates, and upload photos directly from the interface; reward community members for their participation through gamification elements; or give community members access to special original content based on the level of participation.

This shift is happening because people are not only creating a constant stream of social media content, including updates, location check-ins, blog posts, photos and videos, but also curating this content on a number of social platforms like YouTube playlistsFlickr galleriesAmazon listsFoodspotting guidesPinterestPearltrees (video), Scoop.it (video), Storify (video), Cowbird, and Learni.st (video). As a result, corporations and media organizations are discovering that it’s much easier to curate existing content that’s relevant to community members than crowdsourcing original content from community members.

In addition, curation-driven crowdsourcing models are a bridge to collective intelligence models like Sickweather (video), Flu Near You (video), MTV Music Meter (video), Twitter Political IndexTwitter Oscars Index and Facebook America Votes 2012 (video), which mash up search, social, sensor and self-reported data to cluster users, products and behaviors based on time, location, popularity or sentiment. These collective intelligence platforms then show recommendations to users based on their own goals and the behavior of other users like them, and often use gamification to help users change their behaviors.

2. Output: From Search to Synthesis

I believe that the center of gravity in crowdsourcing is shifting from search-driven crowdsourcing models to co-creation and synthesis-driven crowdsourcing models.

While competition-driven platforms that select the best design, video or solution from hundreds of submissions will continue to be relevant (CrowdSpring (video), Userfarm (video), Innocentive  (video), Kaggle (video)); collaboration-driven platforms that rewards participants to co-create designs and solutions will become more important (TalentHouse (video), Local Motors (video), Jovoto (video), OpenIDEO (video), Quirky (video)).

On competition-driven platforms, creators often submit entries in private and only get rewarded for winning. On collaboration-driven platforms, creators are recast as community members who submit and promote their own contributions in public; rate, vote, comment or build upon others’ contributions; and get rewarded for participating, not only winning.

This shift is happening because competition-driven crowdsourcing models work best for crowdsourcing simple creative artifacts like logos, or secret algorithms based on sensitive business data; but collaboration-driven crowdsourcing models work best for a range of solutions in between: from scriptwriters, animators and producers working together on a video to ethnographers, designers and marketers working together on a new product or service.

In addition, public collaboration-driven crowdsourcing challenges not only result in the creation of better solutions, but also in the creation of a community around the solution. Community members who have helped co-create the solution promote it in their social networks during the challenge, and become early adopters after the challenge.

3. Focus: From Content to Things

Finally, I believe that the center of gravity in crowdsourcing is shifting from crowdsourcing content and ideas to crowdsourcing money, products and services.

While crowd co-creation, crowd innovation and crowd curation platforms will continue to be relevant, crowdfunding platforms that essentially crowdsource money (Kickstarter (video), Indiegogo (video), CrowdRise (video), Kiva (video), Prosper) and collaborative consumption platforms that essentially crowdsource products and services (RelayRides (video), Airbnb (video), TaskRabbit (video), Skillshare (video), eBayCraigslist) will become more important.

On most crowdfunding platforms, a creator pitches a project to the community and asks for small amounts of funding, and promises different rewards for different amounts. Then, the creator and the community promote the project on the crowdfunding platform, on the social web, and in mainstream media, to gather support for the project, and help it reach the funding goal within a specified duration. Crowdfunding platforms not only help creators raise money, but also help them test their ideas in public, build a strong community, and gain visibility.

Collaborative consumption is an important groundswell which is changing the very nature of ownership and consumption. People are sharing the ownership and use of products, services and spaces with others in their communities, or around the world, using community-driven peer-to-peer marketplaces that facilitate sharing, renting, swapping, bartering and gifting. Collaborative consumption platforms enable people to utilize and monetize their excess personal inventories, make meaningful connections, and make or save money.

Just like crowd co-creationcrowd innovation and crowd curation platforms used technology and community to disintermediate agencies, crowdfunding platforms are disintermediating banks and investors, and collaborative consumption platforms are disintermediating service organizations like ratailers, hotels and universities.

This shift is happening because the widespread adoption of online social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Weibo has deepened connection between people and communities and created new types of trust mechanisms based on socially verified identities and friend-of-friend relationships. This has created the context for people to not only share and exchange content and ideas, but also money, products and services with each other, while disintermediating organizations and corporations which they don’t trust anyways.

Future of Crowdsourcing: In Summary

In summary, we are moving towards a future of crowdsourcing in which i) we are not only crowd-sourcing content and ideas, but also crowd-creating and crowd-curating them; and ii) we are not only crowd-sourcing, crowd-creating and crowd-curating content and ideas, but also crowd-funding, crowd-lending, crowd-swapping, crowd-renting, crowd-buying and crowd-consuming money, products and services. What else will crowds do in the future? Do share your insights in the comments.