Crowdsourcing

Daren C. Brabham

Published by

MIT Press

ISBN

978-0-262-51847-5

RRP

£9.95

Reviewed by

Danny Williams MBCS CITP

Score

7 out of 10

The term ‘crowdsourcing’ only entered modern parlance in 2006 when Wired writer Jeff Howe described this new phenomena of online group problem solving. Daren Brabham's book is an in-depth piece of research into what crowdsourcing is and is not. The book is well structured in four separate sections: what is it, how to organise it, issues and futures.

Brabham takes the time to explain his theory of locus of control to help the reader understand what crowdsourcing is. He stresses the importance of mutual benefit and that control must reside between the organisations and community in a shared space.

If you see it as a customer / supplier relationship, then you can appreciate that the customer defines the objective and the supplier (the crowd) delivers the results. Therefore open source is not crowdsourcing because the community sets the priorities - there is no top-down management. I found this a really helpful way to understand the interplay between the actors involved in crowdsourcing.

One of the enablers for crowdsourcing is the technology - typically a platform on the internet where the customer posts their requests and the crowd replies. (Remember that this is outsourcing to as yet unknown people - so there is a defined job to be done).

The benefits of the online platform include the speed to get the work out there, very low barriers to entry, and the asynchronous nature of the interaction. It did make me wonder if I had a football stadium full of people, could I do some basic crowdsourcing there without an online platform?

One of the other messages that stood out is that the crowd isn't necessarily comprised of amateurs. There are many experienced professionals from diverse fields who contribute to crowdsourcing in addition to their day jobs; others may have retired but want to remain active.

There is also a good discussion of the ethics, business practices and labour rights in the context of crowdsourcing. There is a clear benefit to the customer - for example: the crowd doesn't have union representation.

Brabham uses a limited set of examples repeatedly throughout the book. I'm uncertain if this is because there aren't that many good examples of successful crowdsourcing or his research was limited in scope. I feel that a broader set of examples would have provided even more insight.

I was disappointed that despite all of Brabham's research there was no advice on how to get the best out of crowdsourcing. So in essence this is a piece of academic research that looks at crowdsourcing from its inception until today to get to the core of what it is and is not.

Further information: MIT Press

February 2014