Crowdsourcing Evolves: An update from the trenches of the new social economy

image As the creator of a new crowdsourcing app,, I often get asked questions about the site’s brainstorming technology, how to monetize a web 2.0 site, and how to treat your crowd well (care and feeding, as I like to call it).  This all makes me realize that crowdsourcing has evolved well beyond the early experiments in ad hoc online collaboration into a new, real social web engine and economy that is getting people’s attention.  No small feat for a segment of web that’s not all that old.

So what are some of the key changes I see at play these days?  One key development is that crowdsourcing is emerging as a platform not just for logo design, but for software development itself.

Or to put it another way:  Why pay programmers to develop a website when you can use crowdsourcing instead?

Consider this anecdote:  I was recently asked for advice on a project where the client needed to aggregate data from hundreds of government websites, then publish the results to paying subscribers.  The conversation started with the usual question of what platform to use (Rails? PHP?) and if I knew of any developers who could help.

I provided the same advice I’ve given for many years of doing web projects, with the caveat that it was an especially daunting prospect to make the project a success because of all the complex data sources on the different websites…

But later that evening I had an epiphany:  why not use crowdsourcing?  The complex requirements could actually be easily handled by hiring a crowd on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, assigning tasks to go to each website and record the data there in a standardized spreadsheet.  The spreadsheets could then be imported into a web-based data tool like, and the reports created and published to paying subscribers.

So in a flash of inspiration, I had come up with a solution that addressed all of the complex development issues, and that would be easy to manage, affordable, and most importantly, would require absolutely no programming.  Wow.

I sent a follow-on message to the client, and made the case for this crowdsourcing solution.  It seemed like a bit of shift in gears, but she was intrigued by the possibilities, as was I…

Of course, the argument can be made that the opportunities for using crowdsourcing in place of development are limited — Mechanical Turk was created originally for projects very much like this one, so it’s not surprising it would work well in this case.

But this is certainly changing.  Part 2 of this series discusses this further:  How the web is becoming an on-demand service bureau for [insert industry here].

[Edward Cruz is founder and creator of, a new brainstorming site that uses crowdsourcing to generate great ideas, and that rewards the best answers with real bounty. Stay tuned here as next week he continues his series with case studies and a look into the evolution of crowdsourcing. – mrh]