Crowdsourcing Products and Services: Trendy but Boring (Part 1)

crowdOne of the hottest trends that the web has brought us this year is the idea of crowdsourcing.  The basic idea, for those that are not yet aware, is to make design and functionality decisions on products, services, and websites based on feedback from a community.  Facebook recently tried their version of this with their new Terms of Use Agreement.  They left it up to a vote by the community on whether or not they would rewrite certain parts of the document.

An ex-Google designer made noise by claiming the reason he left was because Google left too much of their design decisions up to data from the site’s users, essentially letting the whole world decide what designs worked and what had to go.  And today, over on Springwise, there is news about this company trying to start a crowdsourced fashion label.

While I do appreciate the innovative nature of this trend, allowing the end consumers to essentially design their own products, I think there is a downside to this growing fad.

One person may be creative and stylish, and another person may be quirky and willing to try anything, but the masses are boring.  The large majority of people are looking for something safe, easy and conservative in most of the products or services that they plan to use. Bringing the topic back to fashion, despite all the trendy labels out there, the majority of people will choose the more conservative appeal of a Gap or an Old Navy.

The problem that develops with the crowdsourcing approach is that the more people who get their input heard on the style of a product, the more boring it will become.  If 100 people lean to the left and 120 people lean to the right, the crowdsourced outcome of this product will be very close to being right down the middle.

When you try to please everyone, you end up being plain, and wowing no one. To build a successful brand, you have to wow someone, and boring just won’t do it.

Of course that is just one man’s opinion, I want to know what you think.  Is crowdsourcing going to lead to more popular products and services, or is it the end of creativity and stylistic flair?  Leave your comments below and I will follow up with a future post on this same topic.

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10 Responses to Crowdsourcing Products and Services: Trendy but Boring (Part 1)

  1. Paul Miser says:

    Excellent post Zach! I think the idea of crowdsourcing is spectacular. But there are downfalls. If left to the masses a lot of products wouldn’t exist. Didn’t Steve Jobs say something one time that people didn’t know they wanted the iPod, or something like that? And didn’t Ford say that if you asked people they’d want a faster horse? Without the innovation and expertise of the Dreamers like Jobs or Ford, we would be left with continually enhancing old products, with no innovation of what’s possible.

    Having said that… I do think there is tremendous opportunity for crowdsourcing with Mass Customization. Look at what Nike is doing with certain shoe lines. It’s great that people have a voice now, but companies like Apple should keep dreaming and innovating.

  2. Zach Heller says:

    Thanks a lot Paul, and yes you are so right. This is the type of feedback I was looking for here. The great innovators in the past have “invented” the market for their products and services. That is not a realistic goal of crowdsourcing.

    I do think, if done the right way, companies can have success with it in a more controlled environment. But some of the companies I have heard about using some form of crowdsourcing are worrisome because of the risk of going mainstream/boring.

  3. Kevin Pruett says:

    This is such a great topic, and such a hard one to really “get right.” I think one of the biggest issues concerning crowdsourcing in general is that it really only became feasible about 10 years ago with the advent of the internet. Before the massive ‘connection’ otherwise known as the internet, massive crowdsourcing was a huge task rarely achieved.
    For me personally, I think crowdsourcing is an extremely powerful tool for businesses. Let’s face it, having customers participate/interact with a company’s offerings is a huge step forward for true “customer satisfaction.” That said, I completely see where it does comes up short. Primarily, as you mentioned, innovation tends to stagnate with such massive groupthink.
    This is a hard one, but I will say this. Companies who completely deny aspects of crowdsourcing are at risk. It’s the companies who acknowledge and treat there communities with integrity AS WELL as maintain there unique offerings that will be the most successful.
    Facebook exemplifies this mentality to me. They continue to impress me with there fair balance between users rights ALONG WITH their ability to push the envelope in terms of the service’s functionality. I believe the users should have a say in their ‘Terms.’ However, when it comes to service updates, Zuckerberg and Co. have displayed great determination as they continue to piss off a lot of vocal Facebook die-hards. Of course, if Facebook had listened to the opinions of these crowdsourced bozos, Facebook would not be where it is today.
    This is a glimpse at the ‘connected’ future of business.

  4. Zach Heller says:

    Good stuff Kevin. Facebook to me does get both sides of the issue to a point. They know there are some things that they can leave up to the community at large, and other things, like design changes to help build a business model, that they have to do on their own. Mark Zuckerberg and friends have realized that they do know whats best for the company, even when large numbers of users disagree. Companies need to rely on their own knowledge and creativity to move forward, taking lessons from the community when its feasible.

  5. […] Products and Services: Trendy but Boring (Part 2) On Tuesday, I wrote a post about the pros and cons of crowdsourcing with respect to choosing styles and services based on feedback from an entire community.  After […]

  6. […] maj 2009 · Brak komentarzy W tym tygodniu ukazał się krótki wpis na blogu Zacha Hellera temat zalet i wad crowdsourcingu. Autor uważa, że crowdsourcing jest znakomitym narzędziem ale […]

  7. […] tym tygodniu ukazał się krótki wpis na blogu Zacha Hellera temat zalet i wad crowdsourcingu. Autor uważa, że crowdsourcing jest znakomitym narzędziem ale […]

  8. PB says:

    Good stuff Kevin. Facebook to me does get both sides of the issue to a point. They know there are some things that they can leave up to the community at large, and other things, like design changes to help build a business model, that they have to do on their own. Mark Zuckerberg and friends have realized that they do know whats best for the company, even when large numbers of users disagree. Companies need to rely on their own knowledge and creativity to move forward, taking lessons from the community when its feasible.

  9. I only in the near past picked up the ipad,havent dug through it to figure out all the ins and outs however from what I can see its a fairly decent little piece of technology.

  10. watch5 says:

    I love it,Excellent article.I am decide to put this into use one of these days.Thank you for sharing this.To Your Success!

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