Unleashing the Power of the Crowd

Two heads are better than one, goes the old proverb. So it follows that whether you’re conducting research or looking for crowdsourced testing services the more people you have working on something the better the results will be, but is this always true? Will the crowd always deliver better results?

Image Credit Jerome Waldispuhl

The Many Versus the Few

How effective crowd wisdom is really depends on what you want to know. You only have to look at those regular polls that say ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is the best piece of music or ‘Lord of the Rings’ is the best book to realise that popularity may not be the same thing as knowledge.

The results of crowdsourcing depend on the underlying knowledge of the people you’re asking. A group of experts in a particular field will deliver more accurate results on that subject than a group of random individuals asked about the same thing.

The Right Crowd

The mechanics of actually finding the correct crowd for a particular subject have been a problem in the past, but the advent of the internet has made the assembly of a crowd much easier. You only have to look at the success of projects like Wikipedia to see how the internet can bring people together to combine their knowledge and create something much bigger than they’d be able to achieve individually.

Whilst it’s easy to dismiss some projects as sidelines or hobbies there’s a serious side to crowdsourcing too. It has a significant role in scientific research. The RSPB’s annual garden birdwatch for example combines data from many individuals around the country to track bird population patterns.

It has a role in business too – companies like Bug Finders who offer crowdsourced testing services and others use crowds to deliver better products. Market researchers have long relied on crowds and go to considerable lengths to select the right participants to avoid bias.

Changing Commerce

Thanks to marketplace sites anybody can sell items just as easily as the big online players. Photo sites allow amateurs to sell their images alongside professionals. Sites that bring together freelance workers allow individuals to sell their services and talents across the globe. Even with no specialist skills people can get paid for tasks that computers can’t handle, like identifying pictures. Crowds really are changing the world of work and commerce.

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