Crowdsourcing Products and Services: Trendy but Boring (Part 2)

crowdOn 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 listening to some feedback from readers both in the comments and via email, I wanted to write a follow up post to address some other aspects of this rising trend.

I love community feedback. I think the fact that the internet and social media has made it possible for companies to connect with consumers and vice versa as is apparent by many previous posts on the blog.  What I am afraid of, as far as crowdsourcing is concerned, is that a company will rely too much on the opinions of its users or customers.

As was pointed out to me by Kevin Pruett, Facebook has done a good job at both getting and acknowledging feedback, as well as sticking with internal design and functionality decisions.  They made a lot of people happy by opening up their Terms of Use Agreement to a vote.  At the same time, they pissed a lot of people off by changing the design and functionality of the home page to accommodate advertisers and corporate users.  When it comes to that type of decision, they know better than the sum of their users.

Some other companies have found smart ways of using modified crowdsourcing strategies to achieve a nice balance of feedback and ingenuity.  A website may lay out 3-4 different options and have the community vote to choose the best one.  However, taking that strategy leaves you in what some might consider a poor position. One, you are locked in to that vote no matter what (see TIME’s top 100), unless you want to risk community backlash.  Two, those people who voted for something other than the winner may resent the final outcome.

Additionally, as Paul Miser pointed out, crowdsourcing is not for everyone.  There are companies that should do it, and companies that should continue to break boundaries and innovate on their own.  Why?  Because they are good at it.

Ford invented a market with cars for everyone, Apple invented the market for MP3 players for everyone, and Amazon’s Kindle invented the market for e-readers for everyone.  The masses won’t help you create a new market, because many times we don’t know what we want until we have it.

If there are companies out there that are looking to use some form of crowdsourcing to build community awareness and activity, I encourage them to try it.  But beware of the risks associated with this strategy because it may be tough to avoid them once you get started.  More to come…

Thanks for those people that reached out to me after Tuesday’s post.  To follow this blog series, as well as the rest of the posts on Be Innovation, subscribe here.

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9 Responses to Crowdsourcing Products and Services: Trendy but Boring (Part 2)

  1. Slava V says:

    Well, it’s like they say – listen to thousands, consult with dozens, do as you wish. (Or something along that lines, the point is the same) Actually, most of the great inventions aren’t crowdsourced. Having run a few crowdsourced sites myself, I’d actually say crowdsourcing in it’s wide meaning (i.e. – anyone can contribute) is a tough thing, you get more harm than good, in my experience it’s better to listen to few individuals, who you know well, rather than thousands of people, most of whom have no idea what they are giving you advices about. Listen, but not necessarily follow.

  2. Zach Heller says:

    I agree with that Slava. “Listen but don’t necessarily follow” is a good strategy. That can only work though if you make it clear that you “may not follow” from the beginning. Too many services that rely on crowdsourcing will make it known that they rely on crowdsourcing. That is where it can get dangerous, with the risk of backlash down the line.

  3. […] This post was Twitted by PaulMiser – […]

  4. Edward Cruz says:

    As someone who runs a crowdsourcing site for brainstorming (, my sense of it is that soliciting feedback is just one dimension of the technology, and certainly not the whole. So let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water here! There’s still something valuable happening in crowdsourcing feedback, because the crowd will provide unfiltered, uninterpreted data points that otherwise wouldn’t be available. Ultimately, it’s up to the crowdsourcer to curate and interpret this feedback, and make decisions based on what’s provided. There is no imperative just because the process includes crowdsourcing, unless the crowdsourcer places that onus on themselves.

  5. Zach Heller says:

    Edward, you are absolutely correct. Crowdsourcing works, there is no doubt about that. And interpreting feedback is largely one of the most important factors in soliciting feedback. Communities have a lot to offer, and if the information they provide is used in the right way, it is a tremendous advantage to companies that listen.

    • Prai says:

      Seth Godin is aiznmag. He blogs nearly every day, sometimes several times a day. He always makes you think and respect his curious, nonconformist way of thinking. As for memoir writing thru blogging, I do a little of that also. I'll have to check out how you do it.

  6. Just read this article on threadless from Inc. magazine, 2008.

    Or read Seth Godin, every day.

    I think both these posts, make a mental leap that leads us on the wrong path. Crowdsourcing doesn’t mean going for masses at all. It doesn’t mean compromising to the tastes of a large vanilla group. It can be targeting the core customer with better precision than every before.

  7. 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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    Crowdsourcing Products and Services: Trendy but Boring (Part 2) | Be Innovation

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