Monthly Archives: May 2010

How to Run a Successful Crowdsourcing Project

My colleague Ankit Sharma at the London School of Economics (LSE) recently sent me his research paper entitled “Crowdsourcing Critical Success Factor Model” (PDF). It’s definitely worth a read. Ankit is interested in better understanding the “dynamic and innovative discipline of crowdsourcing by developing a critical success factor model for it.” He focuses specifically on mobile crowdsourcing and does a great job unpacking the term.

Ankit first reviews four crowdsourcing projects to inform the development of his critical success model: txtEagle, Ushahidi, Peer Water Exchange and mCollect. He then notes the crucial difference between outsourcing and crowdsourcing. The latter’s success is dependent on the scale of crowd participation. This means that incentives need to tailored to recruit the most effective collaborators while “the motive of the crowd needs to be aligned with the long term objective of the crowdsourcing initiative.” To this end, Ankit defines successful crowdsourcing in terms of participation.

Ensuring participation requires that the motives of the of the crowd be directly aligned with the long term objectives of the crowdsourcing initiative. “Additionally, to promote participation the users must use and accept the technology of crowdsourcing.” Ankit draws on Heeks and Nicholson (2004), Carmel (2003) and Farrell (2006) to develop the following model.

The five peripheral factors above “affect the motive alignment of the crowd which is the prime determinant of success of the crowdsourcing initiative. It is assumed to directly affect user participation. The success of the initiative is expected to bring in more participation. Hence, the relationship between motive alignment and crowdsourcing success is bidirectional in the model.”

  • Vision and Strategy: “The coherence of the initiative’s vision and strategy with the aspirations of the crowd ensures that the crowd is willing to participate in it.”
  • Human Capital: The skills and abilities that the crowd possesses is a determinant of successful crowdsourcing. The more skillful and able the crowd is, “the less effort required by the crowd to make a meaningful contribution to the initiative.”
  • Infrastructure: “Crowdsourcing requires abundant, reliable and cheap telephone or mobile access for its communication needs in order to ensure participation of the crowd.”
  • Linkages and Trust: Crowdsourcing initiatives all involve a time or information cost for the crowd, which is why developing the trust factor is critical. Proper linkages can also “add a substantial trust aspect to the crowdsourcing initiative.”
  • External environment: “The macroeconomic environment comprising of the governance support, business environment, economic environment, living environment and risk profiles are important determinants of the success of the crowdsourcing initiative.”
  • Motive alignment: “Motive alignment of the crowd may be defined as the extent to which crowd is able to associate with long term objective of crowdsourcing initiative thereby encouraging its wider participation.” The table below explains how the peripheral factors effect the motive alignment of the crowd.”

Ankit applies his matrix to the four case studies cited earlier. This yields the following summary:

Based on this analysis, Ankit argues that for crowdsourcing projects to succeed it is “critical that the crowd is viewed as a partner in the initiative. The needs, aspirations, motivations and incentives of the crowd to participate in the initiative must remain the most important consideration while developing the crowdsourcing initiative. The practitioners must understand the crowd motivation and align their goals according to it.” In an ideal scenario, Ankit notes that technology must be “optimally usable” without the need to provide training and assistance. Successful crowdsourcing initiatives also require an “aggressive marketing and public relations plan.”

The main question I look forward to discussing with Ankit is this: what level of crowd participation is sufficient for a crowdsourcing initiative to be deemed successful? Should this be a percentage? e.g., the % of a given population participating in the crowdsourcing project. Or should the number be an absolute number? This is not an academic question. Who decides whether a crowdsourcing project is successful and based on what grounds?

Patrick Philippe Meier

The Future of News: Mobilizing the Masses to Write the First Draft of History

I’ve been meaning to write this blog post since February when I presented Ushahidi to BBC, CNN, UK Guardian and Channel4 in London. A session we just had at Foo Camp East made me realize it’s high time I write this.

The idea I pitched to CNN et al. was as follows: use a dedicated Ushahidi smart phone app that allows anyone to be a real-time iReporter. You download the app and allow CNN to know your location (although you can decide whether that’s within a 10-mile, 1-mile, 100 yards etc radius). As the CNN newsroom gets wind of a new potentially news-worthy incident, they just press the “red button”.

This red button sends out a message to all mobile iReporters within, say, 100 yards of where the incident took place asking them to take a quick picture if they happen to be just around the block. These users—turned volunteer CNN citizen journalists—can then be mobilized to report in near real-time. They could send in geo-referenced pictures annotated with comments and video footage of unfolding events.

I think this kind of app would appeal to many would-be citizen journalists. It costs nothing, just download to your smart phone so that if you ever find yourself at the right place at the right time then you know your breaking news picture may make it to CNN. There could be additional incentives like the number of reports you’ve submitted to CNN following a request. In other words, you could turn this into a quasi-competition or game. Yearly awards could be given out.

Ideally, you’d have a dozen citizens respond to the red button call, scrambling to be the first on site to take the picture, or to be the one who takes the best picture of the incident. This would allow CNN to triangulate the incoming information, possibly creating a Photosynth product updated in real-time. Comments (ie, captions that come with the pictures) could also be cross-validated for reliability purposes. Here’s a 3D rendering of Venice using Photosynth:

One other use-case for this Ushahidi mobile app would be for users to submit pictures/reports without being solicited by CNN. In fact, more often than not, these mobile iReporters are likely to be the first to break the news of an incident to CNN—rather than the other way around. Once an iReporter does this and CNN receives the geo-located picture, they can press the red button to mobilize other would-be iReporters to the scene.

This is why I love citing the Ushahidi article that my New York Times colleague Anand wrote up earlier this year. The screen shot below from the Ushahidi-Haiti deployment literally illustrates the reasoning behind Anand’s question: “Will the triangulated crisis map be regarded as the new first draft of history?” The beauty of crowdsourcing is that it opens the floodgates of information. This means more and more witnesses can capture evidence of the same historical events unfolding. In other words, there is overlap and the triangulated map becomes possible.

The key word for me in Anand’s quote is “draft”. History is now a draft, not a finished product, but a work in progress—and one that is now written (and corrected) by the crowd. Anand adds, “They say that history is written by the victors. But now, before the victors win, there is a fresh chance to scream out, with a text message that will not vanish.” I’d go even further and say that the crowd can now be the victors by being  mobile iReporters.

Think of these smart phone apps as the “seismographs” for crises. This allows users to form a veritable real-time, real-space human sensor web—or as Secretary Clinton describes it, “a new nervous system for the planet.”

Of course there are liability issues with mobilizing the masses to write the first draft(s) of history. So disclaimers will be necessary. For example, do not try and cover a story if this places in you physical danger or psychological harm. You’d probably have to give up all rights to the picture/text you submit, but at least you’d have your name credited on CNN.

Patrick Philippe Meier