The Downside to Crowdsourcing [Google’s Free Artists]

image Recently, Edward Cruz (founder and creator of did a series here on crowdsourcing, which encouraged big business to take a second look at crowdsourcing as an economical alternative to getting a generally higher quality product for a variety of things a business may need.

One of the things he emphasized throughout the course of his series was the need to “care and feed” the crowd.

Care and feeding of a crowd, as I sometimes jokingly refer to it, really is not a joke.  It’s one of the key challenges of crowdsourcing. Without an even playing field that benefits both crowds and crowdsourcers, a viable social and economic ecosystem can’t be built, much less sustained.  And that doesn’t bode well for crowdsourcing.

There’s a lot of talk today around the topic of Google, in light of a recent expose at the New York times, having forgotten this essential bit of the crowdsourcing equation.

Essentially, in preparation for a new release of its Chrome browser, Google recently asked dozens of illustrators to provide art skins for its Chrome browser. For free.

“While we don’t typically offer monetary compensation for these projects,” Google said in a statement, “through the positive feedback that we have heard thus far we believe these projects provide a unique and exciting opportunity for artists to display their work in front of millions of people.”

The problem, though, as Edward points out, is one of blowback. Edward offered a wide variety of case studies and examples of successful crowdsourcing in action, and all of them offered at least some sort of bounty on the picked “winner” of a crowdsourced effort.

Google didn’t – and the fact that they didn’t is only exacerbated by the fact that the company grosses billions and nets millions. That they couldn’t set aside a few hundred for a winning design is certain to reflect badly.