Crowdsourcing: Unpaid innovators and consumer employees

18 Apr

Crowdsourcing can be defined as the act of taking a job that was formerly conducted entirely by a designated agent and outsourcing it to the general public, particularly online communities. Crowdsourcing represents a marked shift in the relationship dynamic between consumer and producer. Traditionally, the consumer’s role in a goods/service exchange was  an extremely passive one. The entire purchase process, from start to finish, was coordinated and overseen by the product institution. Apparently, the notion of self service was unprecedented until essentially the 1970s, when areas of retailing such as home improvement, pharmacy, and automotive supply had become commonplace.

In this day and age consumers are also being given increasing degrees of responsibility for service provision, taking it upon themselves to voluntarily provide substantial contributions to the design and distribution of the product under the notion that they are, collectively, creating a more customized and superior merchandise. Consumers have ditched the passive roles and have become more like co-workers, who “oversee specific parts of a production process that ultimately remains under the control of a commercial enterprise” (Kleeman).

However, consumers are shifting from passive roles to integral positions necessary for the making or marketing of the product. Consumers are adopting a new role known as the working consumer. The working consumer is defined as the instance during which a consumer voluntarily takes an active and integral role of product development or distribution. Expert Frank Kleeman defines working consumer as:

working consumers are active in the production process and can be utilized as value adding workers; b) the capacities they possess are valuable economic assets; and c) they are systematically integrated into cor-porate structures, where their actions can be monitored and manipulated by corporate managers much as if they were employees.

It’s interesting to see the increasingly apparent shift toward individual automation and self-service in most aspects of every day life. Machines such as self-checkouts and online ticket venues, attempt to get the consumer to naturalize and complete fundamental steps required to fulfill a service, a tactic known as ‘McDonaldization’.

Crowdsourcing, the act of obtaining relevant product information through the voluntary contributions of massive online user communities, is simultaneously a risky and savvy business strategy. As expert Frank Kleen claims, “firms engage in crowdsourcing to inexpensively mobilize the creative work of some-times highly skilled persons as a re-source for the generation of value and profits”.

click for image source

Visual metaphor for the idea potential of collective user contributions

Crowdsourcing is a double-edged sword. Although companies cut costs by reducing required personnel, the inherent risk lies in depending on consumers to provide consistent and substantial product information of their own volition. Services like Amazon bookstore rely heavily on consumer generated reviews and rankings to supplement their book information.

Crowdsourcing is primarily an affordance of the connectivity capabilities that accompanied the emergence of “Web 2.0”. Web 2.0, Kleeman believes, “is about interactive and collaborative structures that enable users to create ‘user-generated content'”.

Crowdsourcing comes in myriad forms, however, the consumer manages to play an integral role in practically every single adaptation. Strategies such as Permanent Open Call which are jobs such as amateur news reporters, positions that can are permanently available to the general public. Other strategies include product and seller ratings/reviews (Amazon), and competitive expertise during which a specific task or demand is requested of a mass user community and the most able-bodied individual among them would ideally complete the task, and receive financial compensation.

As Internet technologies and connections improve, it’s hard to imagine that forms of business and corporate marketing strategies won’t draw or expand upon user generated information such as Crowdsourcing.


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