Can — and Should — Creativity Be Crowdsourced?

By on November 10th, 2011

Crowdsourcing our own opinions and relying on others’ is all the rage: Yelp, Angie’s List, Facebook Likes — apparently, we won’t buy anything unless we consult to see if groups of strangers think it’s okay.

Crowdsourcing, first name-tagged in a 2006 Wired magazine article, has infiltrated the creative arts, too.

For instance, the Japanese are heavily into keitai shosetsu — thumb novels written by collaborating hoards of teenagers and 20-somethings who knock out romance novels and crime thrillers via mobile phone texting.

The trend to crowdsourcing film has been tested in the Netherlands. The Dutch filmmaker who undertook this effort said, “We wanted to make a movie that shows the opinion of the public, created by the public, on a subject that concerns every tax-payer: The bankruptcy of DSB Bank in the Netherlands (2009) … We did not have any budget. Lucky us, we have an excellent … social system in the Netherlands.”

Mashable demonstrated the possibilities of creative crowdsourcing when it featured “10 Cool Crowdsourced Music Video Projects.” Similar collaborative projects have popped up at Fashion Stake, communal problem-solver Innocentive, photo sharing site Flickr Creative Commons, and Wiki-Art.

Naturally, somebody saw the dollar signs in crowdsourcing. In Chicago, the enterprise Crowdspring.com has sprung. These online marketing folks allude to crowdsourcing in their name, but others describe the process as a worldwide contest wherein folks in the creative arts (design, website development, writing) are invited to “work for spec” and, if they’re lucky (?), be chosen to actually work on a project and get paid. Chances of being chosen and getting paid are very slim, say detractors – and some (like Brian Yerkes) who have participated are, frankly, furious.

In a Nutshell, Please: Can Creativity Be Crowdsourced?
Garrick Schmitt addressed that question exactly in AdAgeDigital in 2009. Garrick concludes: “For agencies, crowdsourcing forces us to re-examine how great work gets produced and where the best talent resides … For marketers, crowdsourcing creative services poses both great risks and rewards … And finally, for the industry as a whole … time will tell.”

Point Is, There’s Crowdsourcing and Then There’s Working for Free
In his article, Garrick came up with some excellent examples of creative crowdsourcing, as has econsultancy. In many of these examples — though not all — true sharing and collaboration occurs when participants group together in a common pursuit. A different scenario emerges when dozens (or hundreds) of folks of all ilk compete fiercely, investing time and resources in pursuit of a positive outcome that only one will ever enjoy.

And, now, for MarketingBrillo’s Final Word …
Crowdsourcing for creative inspiration and a good time? Definitely yes.
Crowdsourcing spec work in hopes of landing a job or getting cheap work? Definitely stupid, probably exploitative.

More Resources For Deciding How You Feel About Crowdsourcing
As for whether crowdsourcing can work for commercial enterprises looking for publicity, this report demonstrates that effective crowd sourcing requires 1) a crowd, 2) incentives, and 3) an easy project.

For an authoritative voice on the economics and ethics of crowdsourcing, check out writer/designer/entrepreneur/Ironman competitor Andrew Hyde’s various blog posts on the subject (alert: Andrew thinks spec work is evil, period.)

For more info on what’s new in crowdsourcing, see The Complete Idiot’s Guide here.

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