Final discussion guide for All About Crowdsourcing, a Boston Ad Club Event

An early example of crowdsourcing, the Million Dollar Home Page

An early example of crowdsourcing, the Million Dollar Home Page

Tomorrow, I interview John Winsor on crowdsourcing.  I’ve been working on this for a while now:  I’ve read Jeff Howe, checked out numerous crowdsourcing sites, exchanged emails with BBH Labs, and interviewed the CEO of Poptent. There are more crowdsourcing examples surrounding us than you might imagine.  Some represent true peer production (Library of Congress); others are closer to open competitions (crowdSpring).

But clearly numerous companies (at least the forward thinking ones like Dell, Starbucks and Proctor & Gamble) embrace it; others like (tee-shirts), Kompoz (music), (language), and Filmaka (film and video) have launched businesses based on it; and thousands of individuals have found it a way to create, join, compete and participate.

Anyway, here is our discussion guide for tomorrow, subject to change.

What are the best examples of crowdsourcing that you’ve seen?

We’re probably all familiar with the creation of iStockphoto,, My Starbucks idea, Dell’s Idea Storm.  Do others, less known but just as innovative, stand out?

What are the most obvious applications?

It seems the obvious application, and the one most prevalent, is simply fishing for creative ideas from a larger pool of alleged talent.  Doritos’ Superbowl spot for example, and clients’ use of services like Poptent and 99 designs come to mind.  In some cases these are just publicity stunts, but in other cases they really work, for both the marketer and the creator.  Would you agree?

BBH Labs used crowdSpring as an experiment to create its own logo

They claim that, “In the not-too-distant future, creative agencies will resemble expanded networks with core teams overseeing expansive partnerships rather than the more vertically-integrated models existing today.”  Let’s talk about how soon this might happen.

At the same time there’s some controversy.

Google the term “crowdsourcing is evil,” and you get 75,000 results.  Most of it is in response to services like crowdSpring, which stands accused of devaluing graphic design.  Even AIGA has weighed in with an official position essentially opposing spec work.  So, is crowdsourcing evil?

AIGA’s position opposing spec creative is on behalf of professional designers.

Jeff Howe’s entire CS thesis is based on the fact that the gap between amateur and professional has narrowed and that in an economy that forces us into specialization, amateurs find joy, participation and release in other endeavors. So they emerge as designers, scientists, bloggers, and inventors.  Isn’t crowdsourcing being driven as much by the desire of the creative person to participate?  You mentioned this in your Business Week article.

So, is this an opportunity or a risk for agencies?

Historically agencies want to be the source of creative ideas and output.  Should they crowdsource content? Change their business model as BBH suggests will happen anyway?  What are the ramifications of doing so?

Typically agencies tend to resist this stuff until they’re forced by clients to change

But by then they’re way behind the curve.  Obviously clients want more options for less money.  But at the same time, isn’t this a way for agencies to get into all kinds of different businesses?  Product development?  Communispace-type communities?  The building of advisory panels?  Consumer generated stories that might inspire agency created-content?  Or, closer to using crowdsourcing as it was first intended:  exploring ways to tap into collective knowledge to create a bigger idea or solution.

I interviewed the CEO and founder of Poptent earlier this week.

Neil Perry’s business model is simple, yet brilliant.  Big brands need creative content in numerous places and don’t want to spend big bucks on fees or production for most of it. So, Poptent delivers produced video for between $25 and $30,000, sourced from the crowd of content creators, videographers, and creatives who aren’t (and probably never will be) commercial directors, but who can create better than decent content.  His clients include Bud Light, Old Spice, Stouffers, Nestle.   Can’t agencies tap into this?  Or even replicate the model themselves?

Let’s talk about some misconceptions.

Everyone thinks this is cheap and easy.  But it takes time, organization, and planning to make it work.   What are your thoughts on the effort required?  Can we measure or place a value on the time and energy?

Then there’s Sturgeon’s Law

The process will generate 90 percent crap and only 10 percent good stuff.  And that’s if you’re lucky.  What can a brand or advertiser do to increase or manage the odds?

How about incentives for the crowd?

Again, the new company trying this out might think it’s about money.  But in many cases it’s creating ways to build reputation and gain personal fulfillment?  Are there best practices we can replicate?

Perhaps the biggest challenge is this:

As our business becomes more and more about collaboration, far beyond the writer/art director, but to teams that include programmers, user experience professionals, designers, SFX creators, social influencers — often all working together to amplify an idea — won’t crowdsourcing pose all kinds of new challenges for those managing teams that are interdependent?

There are some cool things getting done that should inspire us

There are examples from years ago, like Awesome, I Fucking Shot That, the 2006 Beastie Boys concert where they gave video cameras (rented and returned after the concert by the way) to create footage for a documentary.  Simple idea.  Then there’s the more recent video for Sour. The BBH-created video includes fans from all over the world who submitted video of themselves via webcam.  It’s a celebration of the band, of music, of inclusions, of technology.   It may not be a business example, but reduced it to its essence, it’s simply an invitation to the crowd to join a brand and co-create content.  What can we learn from these creations?

And finally, of course, there are your questions.  Some incorporated already.  Others on index cards ready to go.  Your thoughts?  What will you use crowdsourding to accomplish?

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Gavin Heaton
Gavin Heaton

When bunch of us got together to create the crowd sourced book, Age of Conversation, we didn't know what to expect. One of the key benefits was that it created a community - that the authors all wanted to meet and share their experience and stories. So something that started online, really came to life when it crossed over - to the offline world.
.-= Gavin Heaton´s last blog ..A Cup of Chaos #16 - Mandy Moores Red Bull Energy Douche =-.

edward boches
edward boches

That's a great point. Am finding the same thing in my own life. Have connected with Ben Malbon at BBH Labs, Seth Simonds, Chris Brogan, John Winsor, any many others. Learning new things from all of them. To imagine enlarging your tribe without the technology and approach is impossible. Sure you can meet up at a conference or an award show, but in this new environment, your relationship and sharing develops at a pace that isn't contrived or forced and that leads to greater things. Thanks for stopping by.

Matt Johnston
Matt Johnston

Looking forward to tonight's event! If time permits, I'd love to hear John's thoughts on the following questions:

* What traits make a category/industry particularly conducive to crowdsourcing?
* Are there any segmentation patterns(paid vs. volunteerism, b2b vs. b2c, remote vs. in-person) that are particularly useful in organizing the world of crowdsourcing as it matures and evolves?
* Why is there so much less dedicated media (sites, mags, events, etc) dedicated to crowdsourcing than there are for things like "the cloud" or "SaaS"? Is that a reflection on the potential impact of these ideas?

Matt J.

Mark Harmel
Mark Harmel

I actually like some Crowdsoucing projects. David Pogue's Crowdsourced Twitter book is a great experiment in participatory writing.

From post:
To demonstrate the real-time nature of Twitter during a recent lecture, New York Times "Circuits" columnist David Pogue turned from his PowerPoint presentation to his Twitter page and typed "I need a cure for hiccups....RIGHT NOW! Help?" In less than 15 seconds, feedback poured in: "Simple. Just hold your breath until Windows 7 is released."

Pogue continued the Twitter exchange with his followers and the book ships this week.
.-= Mark Harmel´s last blog ..feeding frenzy at the flat creek ranch =-.

edward boches
edward boches

Good questions. Will add them. Thanks for the ideas.

Joseph Rueter
Joseph Rueter

Edward, Solid work on this. Excited to see the follow up posts or the record of the live stream or something of the sort.

I'd like to ask John, if I were there, what his knee jerk answers are to the 3 questions he posed on his most recent blog post "It's not about the crowd" of August 3rd. It seems reasonable to conclude that some measurable portion of the current perspective toward overcrowding is simply about most people's negative disposition toward change in general. Agreed.

Regardless, those last questions to my mind seem spot on. You hint on a couple of them in your questions above. Wondering if you'd consider dragging them a bit more forward.

Here they are:
"How do you manage and inspire the crowd"?

"How do you make meaning from all of their input"?

"How do you build brands in such a noisy environment"?


Now, I can see it being easy to address these questions with some kind of response like "the context informs the answers to those questions." That's where my mind leads me. It's what I'd respond with. Yet, I'm wondering if the answers can be taken further some how. I don't know how at this point. Just wondering.


Amy Flanagan
Amy Flanagan

This is sure to be a great discussion. (Love how you are crowdsourcing the discussion guide, btw.) I am really not happy that I can not make the event. Will there be a podcast available afterwards?

I am glad you're asking the "10% good stuff question". Would love to hear that answer.
.-= Amy Flanagan´s last blog ..I do not look forward to voice activated television. =-.

edward boches
edward boches

Not sure about the video. John and I are recording with Cramer productions this AM. Will work to make their content available to all.

Mick O'Brien
Mick O'Brien

Check out, the site P&G created for young girls (it is sponsored by Always and Tampax). P&G is actually using the site (or at least they were seven months ago when I was working on the business) to ask girls what they thought about promotions and ads. Sort of a constant, virtual focus group.

edward boches
edward boches

Very familiar with the site. Have used as example of social media in many presentations. Yes, it is but one more way we can source the crowd or our community. Thanks for reminder.


Very excited for the discussion tomorrow.

The only question left out that I would like to see is in regards to the beginning of Crowdsourcing. How far back does it go in human history? They say some of the earliest examples of graffiti are on the walls of ancient Rome. Is there a historical equivalent for Crowdsourcing or is this a recent development in our evolution as a creative species?

Also, another recent, fun example of crowdsourcing for you:

edward boches
edward boches

It goes way back, to casting calls, to the creation of armies, and beyond. I know that John has thoughts and examples. We'll try to cover.

Mark Harmel
Mark Harmel

As the original Wired Magazine iStock poster boy (as the first generally known pro photographer that lost a stock license to iStock), I continue to have concerns about the future of art professionals.

Looking past my navel perhaps the bigger concern is whether amateurs are being exploited. The iStock founders sold out for $50 million and their contributing photographers still get $30 for the use of a photo that runs on the cover of Time Magazine (vs. the normal $3,000).

Are Crowdsource organizers making the world a better place or creating a class of art serfs.
.-= Mark Harmel´s last blog ..feeding frenzy at the flat creek ranch =-.

edward boches
edward boches

Really good question. We can debate tomorrow. There is lots of discussion about turning creative and design into commodities. Though there are also arguments that say people want to contribute for all kinds of reasons (fun, participation, money, fame). Question might be answered with anything from small equity positions for creators, to usage and rights. But agencies have same problem themselves. Do you do spec and give away tons of content for free in hope of winning? Do you sell content for cheap without any licensing agreement? If you choose not to, isn't there a line behind you willing to do so?


  1. […] Last night, I attended a very thought-provoking Ad Club (#adclub) event, “All About Crowdsourcing,” featuring authors Edward Boches and John Winsor. John, VP of Strategy & Innovation at Crispin, Porter & Bogusky, recently wrote a piece in BusinessWeek about what crowdsourcing means for innovation. Edward, Chief Creative Officer/Chief Social Media Officer at Mullen, is a marketing guru and has a very cool blog called creativity_unbound. […]