By Tara Lane, Staff Writer
As we find more and more ways to connect online, the trend of crowdsourcing only seems like a natural progression to solve problems, collaborate, and join in discussion with people from around the world. Crowdsourcing’s scope – from social networks to intellectual capital and microfinancing – covers nearly every industry imaginable, and continues to be adopted by new ones every day.
The New York Times is branching out and experimenting with the latest area of crowdsourcing – crowdfunding. Similar to crowdsourcing, the idea of crowdfunding asks people to donate small amounts of money to support a larger cause. In this case, users on the site Spot.Us raised funds to help reporter Lindsey Hoshaw travel to a remote part of the Pacific Ocean in order to report on an environmental story. It was the Times’ first crowdfunded story – and will most likely not be its last.
In a way, the move to crowdfunding shows that the Times is not only supporting citizen and freelance journalism, but also makes the media company appear fresh, almost like a fresh startup venture. As a business model, crowdfunding is sustainable, and easy to use as both a person seeking donations and someone looking to donate money to others. Using PayPal or a secure online transaction, one can help further efforts with just a few clicks. Running a crowdfunded story is usually free or at a low cost to the news outlet running the story – a major plus when revenues and ad sales continue to decline.
By utilizing the crowd as a source for news, newspapers can show support for these journalists, while demonstrating commitment and community involvement. For small startups looking to take advantage of crowdfunding, they have a dedicated community of others looking to help, right at their fingertips.
The reach and influence of crowdsourcing and funding is abundant in online communities. In some instances, a simple idea can become supported by thousands of strangers, and the idea can become reality. Creativity is king among crowdsourcing, and there seems to be no limit to what people can use it for. Here are just a few ways that new and established leaders are putting the crowd theory to good use.
On the crowdsourcing front, Dell and Starbucks have used an innovative platform encouraging feedback from customers to help shape the future of their companies. Dell’s IdeaStorm, which has been around since 2007, asks customers to share frustrations or ideas on how to improve upon Dell products and services. Even years after its launch, ideas continue to pour in. Dell has a section devoted to ideas that have been implemented – signaling to customers that they really are being heard.
Starbucks’ My Starbucks Idea operates on a similar idea, but is less tech-focused. Ideas of late include how to stop wasting food, redesign of cups, and ideas for new products. To date, they’ve have more than 79,000 ideas and suggestions. These systems not only show the ideas customers have, but also show how much people are willing to contribute when given the opportunity to do so.
For entrepreneurs and freelancers, crowd-based resources are definitely a welcome opportunity, and they’re available in almost every industry you can think of. In the arts industry, 99designs provides a way for graphic designers to get the creative juices flowing for a chance to “win” a prize – their payment for having the best design. Companies in need submit design briefs, and individual designers work to make it happen. 99designs virtualizes and simplifies the design process that may take a company weeks or months to put together, and helps out emerging designers in the process.
In the auto industry, Local Motors is combining crowdsourcing and crowdfunding to revolutionize the way cars are designed and built. Instead of walking onto a car lot, designers and engineers worldwide collaborate on car designs and concepts, seeing the process through from beginning to end. Users vote on designs, and the cars are then built through collaboration in Micro-factories. In addition to the experience of designing one’s own vehicle, Local Motors offers an unparalleled ownership experience.
Kiva takes the lead in the non-profit crowdfunding corner. Through this growing micro-lending service, small businesses owners in underdeveloped countries are able to benefit from the generosity of users from around the world who donate money to help them start their own businesses. The crowd determines which ideas are of the most value to them, and choose to donate money to help others reach their goal.
Grameen Bank, the original microcredit lending organization, utilizes the crowd within its own group of borrowers. This localized source of crowdsourcing enables the organization to carry out the process on a smaller scale, among a large number of villages throughout Africa. Unlike Kiva, which raises funds from outside sources, the funds for Grameen-sponsored businesses come from the business owners themselves (and a small group of investors in the beginning). When individuals or groups loan money from Grameen, they pay back the principal amount, plus a set amount on interest. As interest accumulates and payments are made, Grameen is able to use that money to help more and more business ideas become reality. Individuals see the changes made for themselves, and happily give back to help others.
While “outsourcing” has become taboo and feared, crowdsourcing is welcomed and encouraged. Whether its voting on the next big product or coming together to create a new one, the trend of crowdsourcing is one that will be around for a while. These avenues bring people together from all over the globe to unite in and move towards a common cause. Businesses large and small, including publicly traded companies and entrepreneurial non-profits can leverage the crowd to make a difference and find great success along the way.
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