The broad audience of the Internet has promoted a lot of innovation over the past decade. We can buy classic cars from cars.com, old road signs from Ebay, textbooks from Amazon, and handmade handbags from Etsy. You can apply for a Mortgage, check your 401-k, and even email your personal bank about that pesky overdraft fee again. Most agree, the Internet is a blank canvas of sorts; if you can find an interested audience in your innovation, you can make a business out of it.
Interestingly, most of the successful internet businesses started with traditional (Project Management) roots. You have an idea for an audience. You create a business plan. You get financial backing through a bank or private investors. You go live and start selling stuff. Eventually you make a profit and a sustainable business or go under trying. In many aspects, it’s the American way.
Today, the Internet has a new way to get things done called Crowd-sourcing. Which, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community, rather than from traditional employees or suppliers”. This concept of getting a lot of people together in large masses to crank out product is not really new. If you remember the history of the Automobile with Henry Ford and the assembly line, you’ll know where I going with this. Ford of course had to pay his workers, since his employees spent a significant time doing tasks they we’re told to do (the implication here is that they probably didn’t want to do it for free).
With crowdsourcing, contributors can spend as much or as little time as they feel compelled to do working on a project. They can contribute up to their level of passion, essentially working for free fueled by emotion and drive rather than money and sustenance. Thousands of passionate people working on 10 minute microtasks can total up to thousands or tens-of-thousands of project hours. Ask breakthroughs and goals are made, passion can be reignited bringing more productivity to the project.
Reading the WSJ’s “Kickstarter’s Social Backlash” article (source below) really made me think about this concept long-term. Kickstarter is a sub-genera of crowdsourcing called crowdfunding (a lot of small contributions can add up to large sums of money). Crowdsourcing gives the promoter a way to fund projects with as little or as much structure as the general public sees fit. There is no obligation to the contributor (they’re not legal shareholders since projects don’t even need a corporate entity to sponsor them) so they’re not really on the hook for much. Movies, books, and gadgets have all had huge success funding projects through this means, but most have been able to deliver on their promises.
I know, it’s a long way to go for a question: Crowdsourcing seems to work well because it is fueled by passion. When you take out the project planning and add in real money, is passion enough to keep crowdfunding on track and going?