Is Crowdsourcing: The Future of Business Innovation?

What is crowdsourcing?

The rising
phenomenon of crowdsourcing is bringing strong, profitable ideas to market at a
pace previously unimagined. 
Crowdsourcing is a unique way of obtaining
research and feedback for product development or seeking out innovative
solutions to a range of problems. Success stories born from crowdsourcing
include the pebble smart watch and a Veronica Mars feature film.
A popular crowdsourcing platform amongst the web design
industry is Topcoder. Announcing that its mission is “to reward and recognize
the world’s best designers, developers and data scientists for honing and
improving their skills” Topcoder is based upon a community of competition. The
members, or ‘competitors’ work on challenges faced by Topcoder’s customer
base, a mix of Global 2000 companies.
Challenges are broken down into three ‘tracks’ – design,
development and data science. These are further categorised into specific
disciplines such as graphic design, algorithms and code development. The site
operates on its own rating system that rates competitors on their solutions and
reliability. Each solution submitted is subjected to a peer review as a means
of quality control and a way of providing feedback to contributors. Entrance
into the ‘Winner’s Circle’ and merit badges are awarded to those who win the
Topcoder provides an innovative way for those working in
the web design industry to collaborate with each other and improve best
practice across the trade.
Crowdsourcing works by taking advantage of the collective
intelligence and opinions of as many people as possible. Innocentive, a
crowdsourcing platform, aims to provide research and development, innovation
and product development through “engaging thousands, or even millions of
professionals who provide solutions and novel ideas”. Users can submit ideas
for feedback, problems for solutions and questions for research.
Innocentive has also developed ‘Innocentive at work’, a
cloud based application that is designed to create ‘innovation communities’
from groups of employees, partners and customers. This allows private
crowdsourcing within corporations and agencies, giving them a cost effective
way of collaboration and a much larger outreach. 
Again, as with Topcoder, Innocentive has a community of
competition approach whereby contributors compete to provide solutions and
ideas in their respective fields. Innocentive also prides itself on standing
apart from other innovation providers in that customers only pay for results,
not for work undertaken or failed ideas. Innocentive calls this a ‘fundamental
change in the economics of innovation’.
Crowdsourcing is also an inventive way of developing new
products. Threadless, a t-shirt printing company asks artists from around the
world to submit designs for their products. Members of the ‘Threadless
community’ review and score the designs and the best ones are printed and sold
earning the artists royalties from the sales.
Still a relatively new way of problem solving, product
development and market research, crowdsourcing has a lot of potential for
future application. Recent developments have seen it being used by government
officials such as New Zealand’s Green Party MP Gareth Hughes. Hughes used
crowdsourcing as a way of gaining feedback and improvements on a draft of an
internet rights bill that his party was to put forward to its government.

China also remains an untapped source of innovation and
invention that has the potential to dominate the crowdsourcing market. A
reality that many analysts foresee in the near future.