Crowdsourcing is a practice that is becoming more mainstream and used more frequently by all kinds of companies. It’s a fascinating concept that’s developed as we’ve become a more global, connected and seamless marketplace. If you’re not familiar with the term, crowdsourcing is a way to reach out to the masses or specific communities online (the crowd) to outsource tasks typically performed by an employee or employees on staff or to tap resources not available to companies via traditional labor resource models.
Tapping into the collective wisdom of the crowd can be a more efficient and sometimes more economic way to get things done. One of the most common examples of crowdsourcing is Wikipedia, where users share their expertise and make continual updates to the vast online encyclopedic resource.
In addition to crowdsourcing labor, organizations are using it to generate new creative ideas in the way of logo or naming contests. For example, Pepsi used crowdsourcing in 2007 to ask consumers to design a new look for the Pepsi can in exchange for a $10,000 prize. Others use it to generate donations for a good cause or to support innovation. Researchers and game designers at the University of Washington developed Foldit, an online game that uses crowdsourcing to ‘solve puzzles for science.’ A group of video gamers helped them discover the structure of an enzyme used by retroviruses similar to HIV. It was a major research breakthrough and one that biochemists had not been able to solve for years.
Several new companies help their clients access a crowdsourcing platform. San Francisco-based CrowdFlower found its niche by providing companies with data clean up via crowdsourcing. The ‘crowd’ handles simple tasks such as matching business names with addresses. The company has had more than 2 million people around the world work for them. They’re able to provide an inexpensive labor pool that can ramp up quickly to manage a large volume of work. A few other firms that offer access to crowdsourcing are Amazon’s Mechanical Turk andClickworker.com.
I recently read about a small startup in our industry using crowdsourcing to connect developers with the local community. Through its website,popularize.com, the company enables developers and property owners in Washington, D.C., to take the pulse of the local community and deliver the kinds of companies and services local residents want. They post large-scale signs on empty building exteriors asking, “What would you like to see here?” Users log onto the website, find buildings in their area and then provide input. Then, it’s up to developers and property owners to determine the economic viability of the suggestions. The company is scheduled to launch a new platform that will allow users to directly invest in buildings listed on the Popularise site.
Tapping into the opinions and expertise of the crowd has huge potential as a way to get fresh perspectives on complex challenges, get access to talent around the world or get new ideas to develop or market products. The question for Colliers and for our industry is: Can we leverage the wisdom of our global organizations, with the vast knowledge and expertise, in new and unique ways to take real estate services to higher levels of professional excellence? I welcome the challenge in exploring this idea and I welcome your feedback on how you see crowdsourcing impacting our industry.