Can You Make Money Through Crowdsourcing?

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Jeff Howe, in his June 2006 article “The Rise of Crowdsourcing”, called crowdsourcing “The new pool of cheap labor: everyday people using their spare cycles to create content, solve problems, even do corporate R & D.” In essence, crowdsourcing utilizes the combined efforts of a group of people to help a person or business resolve a problem, create a new product, etc.

The person or business compensates the group’s efforts by either paying all participants a nominal fee or by awarding prizes to those individuals that come up with the best resolution, idea, etc. Unlike employees, these people are not directly hired or fired by the person/business. Also, since this group is derived from the general (i.e., anonymous) public, it is not considered outsourced labor.

Crowdsourcing is not new. Back in 1714, the British government offered The Longitude Prize to anyone who could find a way to determine a ship’s east/west coordinates at sea. Built in 1827, the Fourneyron hydraulic turbine was the result of a crowdsourcing competition created by The French Society for the Encouragement of Industry.

Modern examples of crowdsourcing include iStockphoto, an image-sharing site that features the work of amateur photographers for $1-$5. There is also Threadless, where community members submit and vote on which T-shirt designs should be produced. GeniusCrowds, a product invention site that I myself was a part of for six months, offers members the opportunity to submit their product ideas and vote for the ones that should be developed into prototypes.

Crowdsourcing Site Compensation

Crowdsourcing sites fall into one of two categories in terms of their compensation: pay-on-task or contest/prize. The pay-on-task sites offer a nominal level of compensation, say $1-$30, for a completed task. It’s not a lot of money but at least it’s a guaranteed amount of pay. Contest/prize sites pay significantly more money or offer job contracts, product prototypes and royalties; however, there’s no guarantee that you’ll actually win that amount or get that offer. Overall, it’s best to find out beforehand just what you’re (not) signing up for with a crowdsourcing site.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing has many benefits for the sponsoring person or business, including access to a vast pool of talented and cheap workers, instant feedback on product ideas, little/no overhead (e.g., severance pay), free marketing and customer loyalty. Furthermore, those individuals that best perform on a crowdsourcing project can later be retained as contractors or employees, reducing a business’s hiring costs. For crowdsourcing members, the benefits of crowdsourcing include personal satisfaction from seeing a product idea realized, feedback from community members, job offers and monetary (or other) compensation.

Crowdsourcing also has its disadvantages. For starters, payments to crowdsource members are rather low. Ownership of your original ideas, designs, etc. is uncertain and the business may later capitalize on your submissions without compensating you. Because crowdsourcing is conducted in an open and public forum, competing businesses can easily swoop in and steal your work.

Crowdsourcing Sites

Despite its criticisms, crowdsourcing is here to stay. Here is a list of crowdsourcing sites that pay money and/or offer monetary prizes for various member tasks:

crowdSPRING: With nearly 90,000 members and roughly 250 ongoing projects, crowdSPRING is one of the biggest and most competitive crowdsourcing sites online. Monetary prizes range from $100-$1,000 for winning a task like naming a company, designing a logo or image, or creating a home page. If you are an accomplished artist or programmer, this may be the place for you.

Crowdtap: This site assigns you points based on your activity, whether it be through posting Facebook Likes, providing product feedback, answering questions or even hosting product-related parties. When you have attained enough points, you can cash them in for gift cards or donate them to charity. Also, 5% of your earnings are donated to a charity that you select from the Crowdtap site with Crowdtap matching your donation amount.

IdeaOffer: This site allows you to view projects that are in need of ideas. If you submit an idea and it is picked as the “winner” you get paid up to $100. Most winning ideas pay out between $5-$15. Here’s one example project and idea:

Daycare in Grocery stores
I have been all over the United States and there has been only one store that I’ve come across that had a childcare or babysitter inside of the store. There was a woman inside of a kids play area that was hired to watch the customers children while they are busy shopping. I would really like to see more of this being that there are a lot of parents out there that could use a hand while trying to focus on shopping. If this a good idea?

Mechanical Turk: Amazon’s micro-labor site offers members a chance to perform Human Intelligence Tasks, or HITs, for a few pennies per completed task. These HITs are easy to do for a human but are a bit too complex for a computer to understand. An example task might include something as simple as finding a URL’s Page Rank for $0.12 or writing a 350+ English resource article for $17.50. Personally, I have found the cheaper HITs to not be worth my time because I had to first contact the task requester and wait for a response before completing the task. However, the more highly priced HITs are worthwhile if you can complete them quickly.

NamingForce: Much like IdeaOffer, NamingForce focuses on the creation of product and domain names. Prizes for submitting a winning name range from $50-$250. It’s easy to sign up to the site and start inputting names almost immediately or just start voting for the names that you like the best. Pro Namers, which are those members who submit at least 200 votes in 30 days, can win as much as $500.

My Personal Experience with Crowdsourcing

As I mentioned before, I was part of GeniusCrowds for six months. During that time, I submitted a lot of invention ideas, some of which were touted as quite innovative by the community members. However, my ideas were never selected for prototype development. After some time had passed, I decided I’d be better off developing these product ideas on my own. Now I just need to get motivated and build my very own human-powered TV.

I also signed up for Crowdtap several months ago. The site doesn’t offer much in terms of instant pay but I am getting closer to cashing in my points for an Amazon gift card. I’ve also had the opportunity to provide feedback on several products that only months later appeared on store shelves.

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2 Comments

  1. CrowdTap looked to be the most realistic of them all, but it seems to only accept americans.

    And sites like CrowdSpring don’t make sense to me. How can designers afford to create logos/sites just as a pitch. Seems unsustainable to do the work each time in hopes of being chosen. Isn’t that what a portfolio is for?

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  2. I’ve tried a few sites like that, also microworker.com, and usually get frustrated and lose focus because I know that even my “free” time is worth more than a few cents per hour, but I’ve noticed that some sites are using their methods to get people to sign up for CPA offers and such. I don’t even know if this is legal, but in a good arbitrage situation it would certainly be tempting to pay a few people to make yourself a few guaranteed dollars. So the thought has always been in the back of my mind to use the sites to my own advantage, but not sure how to approach it. What are your thoughts about it?

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