Crowdsourcing: what, how and why/ why not?

In my post Opencallaboration for the environment, I have briefly covered what crowdsourcing is and explored various definitions. This post hopes to cover the abit more on the what, how, whys and why nots of crowdsourcing!

Let’s now jump straight into the various types of crowdsourcing and understand how they work! While learning about each form of crowdsourcing technique, we will also be assessing the advantages and disadvantages of each technique.

Firstly, take a moment to think about how you would describe how crowdsourcing works. What would you say?

Crowdsourcing is actually much broader than just crowdsourcing techniques that are more familiar with like crowdfunding. Different forms of crowdsourcing techniques allow us to achieve different objectives and we can easily find examples online today. I find it crucial in our world today to understand the diverse nature of a phenomenon like crowdsourcing.

In order to get a more accurate idea of the different forms, I will analyse the works of David Alan Grier [1], Jeff Howe [2] and other papers that include works by my Prof in SMU!


  1. Crowdcontests [1] OR Crowd Creation [2] OR Tournament-Based Collaboration [11]

Such contests require the crowds to compete in a singular task (e.g. designing a logo, testing of softwares, etc.). [1] This allows the crowdsourcer to seek out for the best person for this ‘creation’ activity [2]! At the end of the contest period, the crowdsourcer awards the project to an individual and awards him a prize (the initial incentive set at the start of each contest).

I have participated in a freelance logo design competition before. Unfortunately, I sucked (hahaha!) but it was quite an experience!


  • Cost is LOW: In comparison with having to hire someone professionally, the large supply of competitors decreases the cost of the task. [3]
  • Cost is FIXED: Even if the final chosen proposal far out weighs the fixed-prize, companies only need to give the fixed-prize stated from the start of the competition[11]
  • Crowdsourcer saves on other logistical cost if the task is down through a free platform: the internet.
  • Large base of submission
  • For the crowd: you won’t be judged by anything (e.g. education standard, race, religion) but your own submission


  • Unfair pay for designers and work [4]
  • Risk of plagiarism [4]
  • Poor designer relationship could lead to higher cost due to poor quality. Lack of research and understanding of the crowdsourcer can lead to many disadvantages.[3]

Read more from sources [3] and [4].

Examples: DesignCrowd, CrowdsiteThreadless Design Challenges

2. Macrotask and Microtask [1] OR Virtual Labour Markets [11]

At times, crowdsourcing may not come in the form of a competition but an open appeal to the public to adopt general task.

According to David:

Microtasks are projects that require a large number of workers. Big tasks like transcripting, research and more are broken down into smaller units for the public to pick up and complete. All involved parties will then be paid

Macrotasks are projects that require specific skill sets and are often more complex than microtasks. An individual is chosen from the crowd and paid upon completion. Some examples are: creating a web design that embodies the spirit of a company and business work that requires in-depth knowledge of a market’s background [5].

We can observe that both form of tasks have created what Prpić and Taeihagh call “virtual labour markets” (VLM) [11]. Evidently, the Pros of VLM are pretty similar to Tournament-based: larger pool of potential labour and lower cost. For the Cons of VLM, the anonymity of participants in the crowd [11] is definitely a risk that businesses are taking when engaging in crowdsourcing. The quality of work and also privacy of materials disclosed are two main factors crowdsourcers have to be wary off before engaging in VLM.

3. Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding allows crowdsourcers to raise funds and pool resources from the public to fund their ideas and products [6]. There are a lot of perspectives shared on crowdfunding online! These are the pros and cons I think are important to note:


  • Allow small startup businesses and activist of various causes to raise funds for their projects [7] without giving up intellectual property [8]
  • An indirect effect is that such brands or causes are made known to the public in a very effective manner
  • Receive constructive criticism to improve products [8]


  • Expectations from your funders to do well [7]
  • Risk of one’s idea being copied [8]
  • No long-term viability due to small donations [9] and also short-term sale of idea/product due to novelty

Read more from sources [6], [7], [8] and [9].

Example: Kickstarter, Indiegogo

4. Self-organised crowds [1] or Crowd Wisdom [2]

Self-organized crowds are crowds that organise themselves into teams that work on challenges posted by crowdsourcers [1]. The wisdom pooled together by the crowd allows for innovation, information pooling and brainstorming of solutions [2].

According to James Surowiecki’s book titled The Wisdom of Crowds [10], large number of people can aid in solving cognition (e.g. engineering issue), cooperation (e.g. politics) and coordination (e.g. traffic congestion issue) problems that exist in the world today.

However, this is only made possible with these criteria met [10]:

  1. Diversity of opinions
  2. Independence of opinion
  3. Decentralisation of experience
  4. Suitable mechanism of aggregation (e.g. suitability to specific markets structures)


  • Often Free (e.g. Facebook, Linkedin, etc.). [11]
  • Wisdom of Crowd = More solutions to big problems [10]
  • Collaborative IT structure [11] and daily usage of networking functions make platform very user-friendly


  • Very depend on scale of crowd [11]. There may be millions on that site but the reach depends on the effectiveness of marketing the cause and getting the right people onboard.
  • Often voluntary = Little incentive to participate [11]

Examples: MIT’s Climate CoLab , Waze: Community-based traffic app

These are the many forms of crowdsourcing techniques and their advantages and disadvantages. As we get a better understanding of each crowdsourcing type, we can better analysis and organise different crowdsourcing platforms. In order to figure out with form of crowdsourcing is best, I think that Prpić’s and Taeihagh’s table of comparisons of common characteristics among different crowdsourcing techniques can help us in our decision making process.

Firstly, we need figure out what are the characteristics that are uncompromisable. For example, being the un-employed undergrad that I am, cost is crucial and open collaboration may be the crowdsourcing mode for me. However, it is not always that easy as we often have various characteristics that are uncompromisable. you may find yourself in a situation where there is no way any of these modes work for you and I think it is perfectly fine! There are offline modes of doing things too and we should not restrict ourselves!

Secondly, I think that even if you know the mode of crowdsourcing you think is best suited for you, you have to research and see if there is such a crowdsourcing site that caters to your desired target audience. The part-marketer in me always remembers that internal customers are as crucial as external ones! Internal customers are your employees, suppliers and those who play a role in delivering your end product. Similarly, crowdsourcers needs to find sites where the ideas will be most relevant. Some logo design sites, for example, have different standards and attract, for example, more Singaporean designers than other nationalities. This may affect your logo for your restaurant in Mexico because these designers do not have the full knowledge of what Mexicans like. A design site with more South-American designers may benefit you much more!

[11] Comparisons of common characteristics among different crowdsourcing techniques: Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 11.30.10 pm

In the blog posts to come, I will be figuring out if specific crowdsourcing types have been proven to benefit the environment more than others so do follow me to find out more :)! If this is not comprehensive enough, do consider exploring the various sites available below! Do share with me what you think are other possible benefits and downfalls of using crowdsourcing today!

Cheers, Corinne!

(1300+ words)


[1] Grier D. A.: Understanding the Five Types of Crowdsourcing. Retrieved January 24, 2016 from

[2] Howe, J.: Crowdsourcing ( Retrieved Januart 24, 2016 from book review

[3] NFIB (2010) The Pros and Cons of Crowdsourced logo design. Retrieved January 24, 2016 from

[4] Nebel, C. (2012) The One Pro and Many Cons of Design Contests. Retrieved January 24, 2016 from

[5] Argonaut: Macrotask Crowdsourcing for Complex Data Processing (2015). Retrieved January 24, 2016 from

[6] Mashable Asia: Crowdfunding. Retrieved January 24, 2016 from

[7] Miller, Z.: Crowdfunding: A New Way to Raise Money for your Business. Retrieved January 24, 2016 from

[8] Briggman, S. : What are the pros and cons of crowdfunding? Retrieved January 24, 2016 from

[9] Gaebler’s Resources for entrepreneurs: Crowd Funding Disadvantages. Retrieved January 24, 2016 from

[10] Surowiecki, J. (2004) The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many are Smarter than the Few. Retrieved from Book Review by Aldo Matteucci on January 24, 2016 from

[11] Prpić, J., Taeihagh, A., & Melton, J. (2015). The Fundamentals of Policy Crowdsourcing. Policy & Internet. 7(3). Abstract retrieved from






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