Why classifying the actors of crowdsourcing is so difficult


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A couple of months ago, the website crowdsourcing.org released a neat infographic called the 2011 Crowdsourcing Industry Landscape. It gathers various websites and companies which leverage crowdsourcing as a business model. This post is not about discussing whether crowdsourcing is an industry or a work process, I just want to clarify this taxonomy, based on other sources and my humble experience.

In the video that you can see here (Crowdconvention 2011: 7 habits for highly successful crowdsourcing), Carl Esposti discusses the topic of crowdsourcing and how to make it work for companies. Carl is the founder of crowdsourcing.org, “a community facility to build and present positive information to the industry“, as he says in his presentation. The video does not show the powerpoint presentation on which he bases his presentation; so here it is.

There are lots of online communities doing various different things, but in order for it to be crowdsourcing, there has to be something that is created [and] the output has to be directed somehow“. If we take the example of advertising, this direction can be taken by virtual ad agencies or by brands so that the output is conform to what companies need. Participation is open to a diverse pool of people since “you’re accepting the fact that maybe some of the best ideas live outside of the organization“, Carl says. It’s then the platform’s or the company’s role to re-aggregate the contributions in order to use it on an operational level. In marketing initiatives, for example, this aggregation could be an analysis of the general brand perception or an outline of the best contributions (what Lobre & Lebraty call the authenticity/innovation dyad).

How to categorize crowdsourcing models? One way is to look at the systems (slide 17), the other is to look at the function that the initiative is supposed to perform (slide 18). As I said previously, some of the features companies/platforms on this infographic are missing or misplaced. Companies like NineSigma have a core competency which is broadcasting scientific contests to an audience of specialized people through their web-platform. Check out the Our Services page and you’ll see that the company also provides consultancy services, management services or platform building. A lot of actors diversify their offerings to respond to market demand… which makes the crowdsourcing landscape very complicated and confusing. I tried to contribute to this taxonomy debate by distinguishing Virtual Ad Agencies, Creativity Platforms and Crowd-Sourcers.

You can’t make money with an idea, you can only make money with the manifestation of that idea

In Esposti’s Open Innovation category, we still find lots of different actors: specialized contest platforms (Idea Bounty, eYeka, InnoCentive, Atizo), innovation platform providers (Chaordix, Ideaken, NapkinLabs) and even private corporate initiatives (Netflix, Nokia Bata Labs) or a mix thereof (Local Motors). Now what does it take to rend crowdsourcing initiatives successful? Check out the following image retrieved from Carl’s presentation, where he stated seven habits that should at least facilitate crowdsourcing initiatives.  I added some examples of companies who do these particularly well (to my opinion):


Each of the platforms on this graphic has strong points, don’t hesitate to post comments if you have questions about it. As a thought leader around Open Innovation (via crowdsourcing and other means), P&G stands out.

For me, the most disruptive models of crowdsourcing are those organized around social product development like the above mentionned Local Motors, Quirky or others like Ahhha. Again: “You can’t make money with an idea, you can only make money with the manifestation of that idea“, which is why I think that crowdsourcing an entire new product-develoment process is extremely difficult; and platforms like CrowdSpirit failed, probably because they were ahead of their time. So why is it so difficult to classify the actors who leverage crowdsourcing? Because none of them does the same thing!

What do you think?


  1. Hi Yannig,

    Nice article and great infographic! I can’t find HYPE Innovation on the landscape.
    HYPE is a software that supports collaborative idea and innovation management as well as open innovation.



  2. HI Yannig, another excellent post! I really appreciate what you (and crowdsourcing.org) are doing to establish a solid basis for discussing crowdsourcing and related models. I agree fully with you that constructing fixed categories is difficult. Most companies (I would assume) fit in several categories. I can only speak for jovoto (which you have filed under ‘collective creativity) but which could also fall under the open innovation category or even tools. Maybe a matrix would be more appropriate?


      1. Thanks Nadine! It would indeed be better to have a multiple entry matrix rather than trying to squeeze actors into one category. Frank Piller did a pretty good job in the Open Innovation Market Study (Piller & Diener, 2010) that he presents here http://study.open-innovation.com/ Unfortunatelly it’s not as extensive as the infographic provided by crowdsourcing.org, but I was told that they’re working on an updated version. Wait for it…

  3. Hi Yanning,

    Yes, “crowdsourcing an entire new product-development process is extremely difficult;” . But I am nit sure if I would agree with “You can’t make money with an idea, you can only make money with the manifestation of that idea”. You can make money by contributing to the processes the help manifest the idea – such as market research. If you observe carefully, the many crowd sourcing projects does precisely this.

    If you cut the hype – what you observe is that most web based phenomena’s including crowd sourcing increases the connective and communicational efficiencies of offline processes . That is about all. This may produce remarkable differences in scaling and increasing the efficiencies involved but the basic phenomena remains the same. Local motors seems to be born of out the custom car culture in the US. A classic example of what Prof.Von Hippel as identified as a leas user modifications.


    1. Thank you Sivam, I think you’re right… but I also think the quote of the blog post is still true 😉 You take the example of market research (mrx): I think the value of crowdsourcing for mrx is to provide an input, and the role of mrx then is to extract meaning out of the whole. Crowdsourcing, in some way, is ‘disaggregation’ and mrx can be ‘re-aggregation’ of the whole so that it makes sense. The value lies in the analysis, not in the contribution, no?
      BTW here’s an interesting post about social product development that might interest you: http://bit.ly/nfLWlM. And a quote from Eric Von Hippel: “User innovation might be ideas, but not products” What do you think?


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