I wanted to quell this puppy before it gets any more play. It’s not just another innocuous Web 2.0 buzzword. Instead, ‘crowdsourcing’ as a business concept is a dangerous and caustic idea that attempts to rechristen the most seemingly “lucrative” aspects of the open source gift economy and architecture of collaboration as something that can be evaluated as an economic equation and leveraged against the hapless “public”.
Wired got it wrong when it established the term, putting business interests ahead of the community’s… suggesting it’d discovered a gold mine of cheap labor that could become the next wave after international outsourcing. What Wired should have said of course, casting it in such a light, was that it’d discovered the next source of legalized sweatshop labor where you never even need to meet face-to-face, let alone account for, the people doing the work.
Crowdsourcing is not a “new and nascent business tool for innovation“. Not unless you think that the machines in the Matrix were brilliant industrustrialists for tapping into the raw energy of human fetuses. And not unless your list of crowdsourcing guidelines flow in this order:
- Be focused
- Get Your Filters Right
- Tap The Right Crowds
- Build Community Into Social Networks
I mean, it’s like we should continue with the war metaphors or something. Here I’d thought we’d actually been advancing our civilization for the last 20 years (and no, feeding the employees of one of the world’s richest companies 1,000 pizzas is not progress).
So look, why are my panties all up in a twist over this? I mean, in proper contexts, when used by humans to describe themselves or their work (not the humans that law created), it’s not that big of a deal. But the problem is what happens when business discovers that term and instantly sees a way to cut costs, cut jobs and tap into the brainstem of its “target audience” whose “sticky eyeballs” they’ve already gouged out with a stick.
So okay, if I’m such a smart guy (did someone say smarmy?), what would I call it? Hmm, well, sorry to be a traditionalist, but I’d call it community collaboration or — in a phrase — learning to share your toys in a bigger sandbox.
Guidelines? Ok, well, from within a company, maybe a few:
- it’s all about respect. people deserve it. you have to earn it.
- it’s not about you.
- it’s not about you. (did I repeat myself?)
- it is about the people in the community that you want to serve
- don’t expect people to do what you want them to do
- redux: people won’t do what you want them to do
- repeat after me: I’m not in control, the community is
- …continue: I was never in control, the community just let me get away with thinking that I was
- there’s no free lunch so don’t expect no free labor (and no, your money’s no good here — to the contrary, cash is not “key to getting people to participate”)
- false humility will result in true resentment… save your patronization for the theatre
- don’t be a mosquito — mooching off the intellectual capital of your customers may seem like a great way to improve margins, but doing so is also a great way to cut your customer base.
So, some good examples of “corporate” community collaboration? How about the recent Yahoo Hack Day?
So lessons learned? ‘Crowdsourcing’ is off limits for you corporate types. Call it ‘internet sweatshop labor’ if you need a new phrase. But keep your capitalist dog-eat-dog ethos out of open source. We’ve been there, we know what it looks like and it makes monsters out of people. Corporations are meant to serve individuals, not the other way around.
I’ve got one for you, which actually could make for a pretty good business model… instead of strapping more of your work on to the backs of your customers, why don’t we engage in some “corporatesourcing” for awhile? You do our bidding and act like you like it, m’kay? Pretend like it’s good for you — like a corporate retreat with Mistress Chi Chi or something. We’ll start with with you showing a little course in ethics and how to act like an adult, in how to bear humility, in how to “communicate honestly“, in not treating your customers like enemies who you have to defraud out of their hard-earned money, in owning up to your special interests and in engendering an economy that rewards fairness, open opportunity, diversity and in respecting the fundamental worth that every individual is imbued with. Sound good for a start?