Home Your Guide to the Crowdsourced Workforce

Your Guide to the Crowdsourced Workforce

Crowdsourcing, a term coined by Jeff Howe in a June 2006 issue of Wired magazine, is a model of labor that has been fully embraced on the Internet over the past couple of years. Crowdsourcing takes tasks traditionally done by a single person or small groups of people, and farms them out to a global workforce. The large-scale committee approach is powerful because it leans on the concept of the “wisdom of crowds” (to a certain extent) which says basically that the more input, the better the output. We’ve written about a number of companies that employ crowdsourcing to produce their product or service here on ReadWriteWeb, but in this post we’ll specifically look at companies that allow you to leverage the crowd to get something done.

The official definition of crowdsourcing from Jeff Howe, is “the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call.” Last year we laid out a set of rules for successful crowdsourcing, which might be helpful to keep in mind when employing the services of any of the companies listed below.

Graphic Design

One of the most well-developed areas of crowdsourcing services on the Internet is graphic design. Generally, these sites exist in the form of graphic design contest web sites where clients put up a call for submissions for a piece of graphic design work, and designers compete for a cash prize by submitting designs.

crowdSPRING is the latest entry into the increasingly crowded crowdsourced graphic design service market. The service officially launches today, after a $5000 design competition it held over the winter to design the crowdSPRING site itself — a wise move because it shows that the founders are willing to “eat their own dogfood” and also attracted an initial set of designers to the site.

crowdSPRING is well set up, offering legal protections for both buyers and sellers and a guarantee that all projects posted on the site will get at least 25 entries. crowdSPRING charges a 15% commission on all posted projects.

99designs is very likely the largest graphic design contest site on the web. From its humble beginnings as an area on the web development discussion forums at SitePoint, to being spun off from the SitePoint Marketplace a few months ago, 99designs has experienced astonishing growth to become a leader in its market. The site now has 18,000 registered users — 11,000 are designers — with 150 being added each day. $10,000 worth of prize money is put up for grabs on the site daily and it serves 5 million page views per month.

SitePoint co-founder Mark Harbottle tells me that many designers use the site for lead generation, and that often, winning designers find that contest holders will turn into long term clients who forgo the crowdsourcing option on future projects to work directly with a designer whose work they know they like.

GFXContests is a forum-based design contest site founded two years ago that seems to attract mostly logo design jobs. Full disclosure: I was one of the co-founders of GFXContests, and sold the site earlier this year. I am no longer involved with it. An interesting note: the site’s logo was designed via a design contest held on the SitePoint Contests service (now 99designs).

DesignOutpost is one of the oldest design contest services, sometimes credited with originating the idea — though that’s up for debate. The site is forum-based and relies on a “design team” (pre-approved designers) to fill out its crowd.

Designcontest.net is another large, forum-based design contest site that also relies on the pre-approved “design team” concept.

Pixish (our coverage) is a design and photography contest marketplace launched in February by well-known designer Derek Powazek. Unlike many of the design contest services in this round up, prizes on Pixish aren’t always cash.


A number of large web development discussion communities host contest areas, including NamePros, v7 Network, and Webmaster Talk. Meanwhile, Grapic Competitions is a directory of individual graphic design competitions (not affiliated with the above sites), many that offer cash prizes.


Top Coder uses a competition approach to leverage is distributed network of over 50,000 developers to create software for its enterprise clients.

The software development community — especially the open source community — has long used “bounties” to help lure developers to certain tasks. microPledge (our coverage) is an escrow service that allows people to do three things: set up, contribute to and pay out software bounties, accept donations for projects, or set up a fund/bounty for an in house project (as a developer). In essence, that means people can give the crowd an incentive to work on a software development project.

Like microPledge, Cofundos.org (our coverage) is a web service for offering and managing software bounties. Cofundos.org is focused specifically on open source software, but the team behind it has indicated that they plan to adapt the concept to other areas, including beyond software development. Expanding beyond software development (to say, event funding) is something that microPledge has also hinted at pursuing.

Customer Support

Fixya is a question and answer community, in which people ask and answer technical support queries. Think of it as Yahoo! Answers for tech support. Uniquely, though, Fixya has partnered with some companies to provide an official channel for crowdsourced tech support. Most recently, the site launched a co-branded version of their service for Best Buy.

The goal of Get Satisfaction (recent coverage) isn’t really to crowdsource customer service, so much as to make it easier for people to get access to companies they have an issue with. However, people do provide one another with help on the site — similar to at Fixya — and companies can use it to monitor customer support issues to more quickly tell if an issue isn’t just an isolated incident.

Research & Development

IdeaScale (our coverage) does for research and development what Get Satisfaction does for customer service by providing Digg-style feature request boards. Companies are able to tap the “wisdom of the crowds” to learn what their customers want from their product or service.

featurelist.org is very similar to IdeaScale, but more public, not branded, and focused on software.

FeVote is another suggestion board web application that lets companies crowdsource their research and development. Like Get Satisfaction, FeVote aims to put the control in the hands of the users by encouraging them to make suggestion boards for their favorite companies.

CollabAndRate is “organic collaboration” software that enables companies to poll their customers, employees, or partners for new ideas. Essentially, this is the same idea as the three sites mentioned above, but with a slightly different pitch.

Whatever You Can Imagine

Amazon’s Mecahnical Turk service (recent coverage) is what the company refers to as an “on-demand workforce.” In reality, Mechanical Turk is a 100,000 strong member crowd that people can call on to complete a wide variety of tasks. See the 10,000 Cents art project as example of how one can leverage Amazon’s crowdsourcing service.

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