CWS 3.0: October 31, 2012


Crowdsourcing: More Than a Buzzword

Crowdsourcing is a fast-growing approach to work that can be done by swarms of workers, even broken-down into so-called microtasks that can be accomplished by crowds of individuals and then reassembled into a larger work product or service. Workers can be compensated financially or otherwise incentivized (by earning redeemable points or competing for a share in prize, et al); sometimes workers are volunteers or users of a product or service. Crowdsourcing methods can be employed to accomplish many activities, from the most simplistic (such as identifying objects or faces in photo images) to the moderately complex (like performing a language translation or writing a software program) to what might surpass normal individual and team capabilities (such as contributing to a scientific discovery or an extraordinary innovation).

Early last week, CrowdFlower, a crowd platform service provider, held its third annual CrowdConf conference in San Francisco. One take away from the conference was that the use of crowd solutions of all kinds is reaching an unprecedented scale.

In his opening conference address, Crowdflower CEO Lukas Biewald emphasized the growth that his company and others in the industry are experiencing. We are now seeing “massive adoption of crowdsourcing,” he proclaimed. Testament to this was the hundreds of business attendees, including  a large number of fast-growing, crowd-supplying firms on hand: firms like Servio, ServicePower, LionBridge, Crowdsource, Maven Research, VirtualBee, microWorkers and TalentHouse.

How does crowdsourcing impact the staffing industry and the end users of contingent labor? Crowdsourcing can be viewed as a threat and/or an opportunity from the traditional staffing industry perspective. In some segments, such as in information technology staffing (software development) and creative staffing (for example), the threat is very clear and imminent. To what extent this represents an opportunity for staffing firms remains to be seen. One owner of a creative staffing agency explained how his firm had started a crowdsourcing line of business. His attitude: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” But real crowdsourcing is quite a different animal from traditional staffing and even online staffing.

More than likely, crowdsourcing platforms will arise alongside most traditional staffing suppliers, similar to the way online staffing platforms (like oDesk and Elance) have been doing. However, while both of these kinds of work intermediation platforms are gaining traction, they are not on the radar of contingent workforce management programs. In our 2012 Contingent Workforce Buyer survey, we found that 78 percent of contingent workforce buyers not familiar with online staffing services; 10 percent said they don’t know whether they use online staffing services and 7 percent have no plans to use online staffing services.  Of course, when it comes to younger crowdsourcing models, awareness and engagement are likely to be less, not more.

However,  crowdsourcing can provide the CW manager with alternatives to the traditional temporary worker option. It’s time now for these professionals to get acquainted with both online staffing, as well as the fast-growing crowdsourcing approaches to delivering work on a flexible, even on-demand basis.

To learn more about crowdsourcing, we suggest Ross Dawson’s business book and website, Getting Results from Crowds, and the website resources at and


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