50 Ways to Crowdsource Everything
This is a blog post by Drea Knufken.
Image: Wayne Large/Flickr
Want something done quickly and well? Sic the swarm on it.
Crowdsourcing, which involves a community of anonymous people completing a given task, has become an attractive labor model. Everyone’s seeking it out, from solopreneurs needing transcriptions to Fortune 500 companies looking for answers to complex scientific problems. Here are 50 ways to crowdsource just about everything you can think of.
Image: Antony J Shepherd/Flickr
1. While hotels offer predictable accommodations and quality, sometimes you need something different. Like an entire oceanview flat, or an ultrabudget basement room in the heart of a city’s university area. Sites like AirBnB and VRBO let you search rooms, apartments and houses listed for (nightly) rent by their owners. When you book through the site, the owner gets everything but the small cut taken by the booking site. Ideally, you get the kind of different vacation or business travel accommodations that you’re looking for.
2. With its network of video producers, copywriters, graphic designers, and other kinds of artists, GeniusRocket crowdsources custom advertising for your organization. It takes care of the nitty-gritty aspects of dealing with herds of people while keeping everything proprietary. You provide direction on the end result, they guarantee the rest. They are perhaps the next evolution of the ad agency: the ad curator.
3. GiantHydra is another ad agency curator that uses the “heads” of its hydra to create customer, crowdsourced ad and marketing solutions. Like GeniusRocket, it vets everyone involved in projects, then fishes together the right team for the campaign. The client company’s Creative Director oversees progress. At the end of each “mass collaboration” project, the team, rather than the winner, is rewarded.
4. TunedIT specializes in crowdsourcing data mining and data-driven algorithms. They pose both industrial and scientific challenges, with student contests to boot. The best algorithm wins the payout.
5. In his book “The Smart Swarm,” author Peter Miller relays the fact that the most effective kind of swarm involves smart people who specialize in a variety of tasks. Atizo, a crowdsourced brainstorming site, harnesses this idea. From naming a unique company to marketing ideas to product concepts, this Swiss site lets you collect hundreds of ideas from people across disciplines. Its innovative payment system is based on points, which brainstormers can accrue in a variety of ways.
6. If you want to focus on the kinds of fresh ideas that young people provide, Brainrack is an idea and solution site with an army of students brainstorming behind it. Prize money gets divvied up between the best 15 ideas. Kluster is another brainstorming site to check out.
7. There’s also a DIY option in this space. If you want ideas for new products or services, or even how you conduct business, take an example from Dell. The computer giant’s IdeaStorm website lets consumers submit their ideas for new Dell products and services, as well as anything else that strikes users’ fancies. Dell doesn’t define the topics, leaving its users creative space. Of the 15,000 or so ideas it has received to date, the company has used more than 400. If you’re a smaller operation, you can do something similar through a Twitter list or a Facebook group (or your fan page) devoted to the topic.
8. Ken Davenport is producing the musical Godspell this year exclusively with crowdsourced funding. One share of the musical costs $100, and investors have to buy a minimum of ten shares. This entry ticket pales in comparison to the usual Broadway investor minimum of $25,000. Godspell needs a total budget of $5 million, relatively meager compared to other plays. Davenport, who had to pass a finance exam in order to sell the shares of his play in the first place, runs a site called The People of Godspell to continue the effort.
9. Innovation Exchange, like many crowdsourcers, runs contests that award winners with a cash prize. They focus on the business side of innovation, such as products, services, and processes. Companies submit problems to the site, then facilitators pull together teams from diverse backgrounds to tackle them. Challenges range from marketing ideas and ad campaigns to better packaging and transport. (Though the site doesn’t advertise its challenges as being technical, some of the challenges do require a technical background.)
10. Cancer Commons’ goal is to provide patients with the best cancer treatment possible through crowdsourced information. Doctors, scientists and patients contribute to the effort by sharing treatment results (based on the tumor’s genomic subtype) and using that knowledge to figure out how to best treat the next person. The website also aims to outsmart the shortfalls of Big Pharma’s randomized clinical trials by gathering volumes of specific information.
11. These guys have quite the niche. Colnect is a crowdsourced collectibles catalogue on which collectors display hundreds of thousands of stamps, coasters, phone cards, and other things they’d gathered. Call it the crowdsourced anti-print catalogue. Users have both wish lists and swap lists, so people in this little industry can fine-tune their collections.
Data Entry and Digitizing
12. Microtask crowdsources your data entry and digitizing of handwritten forms to a mixture of people and machines. Instead of being able to select their assignments, human Microtaskers work through a queue of seconds-long tasks for as long as they’re available to do them. This is what the New York Times calls an “online assembly line.” Companies use these information factory workers full-time; Microtask’s software facilitates the process and guarantees results.
13. “If you don’t give back nobody will like you” is Crowdrise’s motto. While certain politicians and beloved-by-investor corporations continually prove this statement wrong, there’s something to it, and Crowdrise knows that. Basically, you create a profile, put up your cause (or join someone else’s), message via existing social media sources, and network. Eventually, unless everyone still hates you, you’ll get the money you need.
Finding a Mortgage
14. You know those automated mortgage comparison sites? SmartHippo isn’t too different, except that it’s powered by a human community, which gives you a more personal touch—and potentially more accurate information—during your mortgage hunt.
Forecasting and Data Prediction
15. If you have reams of data and want trained eyes to tell you more about it, hit up the statistical analysis crowdsourcer Kaggle. There, teams of data scientists can predict everything from the speed of freeway traffic at a certain time of day to the ratio of people who will default on their bank loans. The team with the best data prediction model wins your prize.
16. Your website design, logos, business cards, pamphlets, and more can all be crowdsourced now. 99Designs is a contest site where you submit your concept and let a pool of more than 100,000 designers compete for your prize. At the end, you get the design and the copyright. ReDesignMe is another website to check out in this space.
CrowdSpring is a similar website that specializes in small business graphic design. It also offers a host of writing services, from opinion articles to company naming. It also operates on a prize-based model. Squadhelp is another site that crowdsources web design and marketing, also with a focus on small businesses.
17. Minted is more of a niche crowdsourcer. It only crowdsources paper designs, especially cards, announcements, wedding invites, and other kinds of stationary. Their open design competitions are, unlike many other crowdsourcing sites, democratic: Users vote the best designs to the top.
18. Tapping your Twitter followers will help you gain real-time input on your products, services, and anything else you need to know. Depending on how much feedback you want, and how detailed you want it to be, you may want to offer an incentive such as a prize. You can also join or create Twitter lists for ongoing collaboration and discussion. Using Twitter doesn’t require an intermediary, it’s fast, and it harnesses people you’re already familiar with.
19. Facebook is another way of doing just that. Through a private group or by using your fan page, you can collect rapid-fire feedback for your company. As with Twitter, offering a prize will often get you more responses. You can also use the site for ongoing collaboration.
20. Some big corporations have set up proprietary networks to crowdsource their innovation. For example, P&G Connect + Develop, Procter & Gamble’s invite-only open innovation website, lets companies work with the consumer products giant on its innovation. Only select companies can participate, and ideas aren’t visible to everyone. While P&G has the heft and leverage to pull off this kind of proprietary network, if you’re a small business owner, you can also crowdsource innovation through private groups on Facebook.
21. EquitySplash says it’s “crowdsourcing Wall Street” by letting users invest in a fund (their ownership is proportional to their investment), then having them buy and trade individual picks via a proprietary platform. The outcome of each trade gets spread around the fund. It sounds fun, unless you’re the one making all the bad trades.
22. Through StockTwits, you can network with a huge community of traders around the world, riding their coattails, adding to the info pool, or being a revered lead-dog trader yourself. It doesn’t just run through Twitter, either—you can get tools, widgets, data feeds, and more off their website.
Image: Giovanni Guisi/Flickr
23. Who said you couldn’t crowdsource cutting grass? Put in an order on Lawn Mowing Online, and someone from your area will come over and cut your grass the next day, for $19 and up. Anyone with a lawnmower, digital camera and computer can compete for a gig on this site. As a result, moonlighters and professionals are available at a moment’s notice, all from one central website.
24. If the bank won’t lend you money, or if you’re looking to make a better interest rate than the measly one banks are currently offer, peer-to-peer lenders like Prosper offer alternatives. Find real people to lend to or from. With more than 1 million users and $227 million lended, Prosper is money.
25. If you need to build and organize a client database, run marketing surveys, or even just sort your existing information, the dutiful Clickworkers will hand it over with characteristic German efficiency. They also crowdsource things like writing instruction manuals and glossaries.
26. If you’re developing anything on a mobile platform, Mob4Hire can basically crowdsource the entire development process you, using a swarm of more than 45,000 testers on more than 300 carriers around the world. They give you feedback in every stage of the development cycle, helping you bring your product to market quickly and efficiently.
Image: Cerebro Humano/Flickr
27. When millions of users share their playlists, streaming individual songs to other users who want to listen to them real-time, you have one massive crowdsourced music system. That system’s name is Spotify, and its technology lets users listen to just about any song they want to—with the exception of a few with licensing issues, like Oasis in the UK—on demand and for free.
28. If you want to crowdsource your music making, MusikPitch lets you tap the swarm for custom songs, compositions, jingles, background music—you name it. is the first site for crowdsourcing custom songs and music compositions. You name the kind of music you want and what you’re willing to pay, then sic the crowd on the task. The winner gets your prize.
29. Patent validation can be a horribly time-consuming pain, and Article One Partners has the panacea. Their network of more than one million patent researchers digs up patents and any research around them on command, saving time and migraines. Article One lets you communicate with your researchers to make sure you get the precise results you need. As with many crowdsourcing sites, the best or most extensive research, as determined by you, wins your monetary prize.
30. You have the means. You have an idea of the societal problem you want to address. But you’re not sure how to put your funds or available grants to best use. Enter Philoptima, which crowdsources the design and implementation of nonprofit programs for people who have money, but need good solutions. Whoever finds the winning solution gets the cash prize.
Image: Fabian Reus/Flickr
31. In the traditional stock photo industry, photographers would license their images to established companies, like Getty Images, and receive fees whenever someone bought those photos. As a result, photographers could establish a passive income stream–say, $50 every time someone bought a photo. iStockPhoto disrupted this system by letting amateur photographers, generally more concerned with getting their names out than making money, sell their photos for $1 a pop. Legions of amateurs filled the site with cheap and, with numbers on their side, many high-quality photos. This changed the stock photo industry forever. Getty ended up buying it.
32. Yahoo-owned Flickr hosts hundreds of thousands of users who display their photography on the site. Many of these users let you use the photo for free—with credit—via specific Creative Commons licenses. All you have to do is find the picture and credit it appropriately. Many such Flickr users have excellent photographs, meaning that companies seeking to crowdsource that function have good prospects here.
33. Yes, even the act of preventing downward mobility has been crowdsourced. The Modest Needs foundation has people with serious financial emergencies write about their issues online. Readers then donate whatever amount of money they can afford until the person’s “modest need” is met. The organization performs due diligence on the people in need, making the website legit and free of scammers.
34. Smartsheet is a project collaboration tool with integrated crowdsourced labor. You use their software to collaborate with your remote team on the project, and plug in labor wherever in the process you need it. The software has HR, IT, marketing, and product management features integrated, kind of a one-stop shop for both collaboration and labor.
Protests and Causes
Image: Dave Watts/Flickr
35. Got cause? CrowdVoice can help. By tracking protests around the world, it gives you a central place to find cutting-edge information about your cause and what people are doing about it. CrowdVoice collates news, video, and social media information, so it saves you time and effort in finding the crucial updates you need.
36. Help a Reporter Out (HARO) matches up experts and businesspeople with reporters to create a symbiotic source/PR relationship. You scan your daily HAROs and see if there’s something you can comment on; reporter publishes or airs a story with your commentary in it. Bingo—instant PR, without the legwork.
Quality Assurance (QA)
37. uTest offers on-demand, crowdsourced mobile, web, gaming, and desktop application testing. They offer usability, functional and load testing, by nearly 38,000 testers in more than 170 countries. They offer custom quotes in advance, too, so you know exactly what you’re getting into.
Scientific or Technical Problems
38. Familiar with RNA sequencing, chemical derivatives, or GUIs? Then you might be the kind of user that InnoCentive seeks out to solve companies’ pressing technical problems. Geared at braniacs, and offering handsome prizes for the winning idea, InnoCentive lets companies tap a global community of more than 200,000 users to solve the problems they can’t figure out internally. Those users, in turn, attempt to tackle the problem for a prize. Companies select their winners—and gain a whole bunch of alternative solutions from non-winners in the process.
39. Like InnoCentive, Idea Connection taps the brains of engineers, scientists and other tech-oriented people to solve difficult problems. Unlike InnoCentive, however, Idea Connection is facilitated, and keeps much of its information confidential. Companies come to the service with their challenges, and Idea Connection acts as a middleman, seeking out input from users via collaborative intranets. Companies can customize how much input they get and how much they pay; Idea Connection takes care of the rest. With that level of service, one wonder about the size of the cut that Idea Connection takes vis-à-vis other crowdsourcing helpers.
40. There are more companies in this space. Consultant Nine Sigma also provides a high level of service, helping companies customize the kinds of structures they need to support open innovation, as well as facilitating open innovation processes. Hypios is another company that provides a platform to outsource your R&D.
Image: Theodore Lee/Flickr
41. If your business involves QAing software or content, or perhaps transcribing, finding things online, tagging, or any of the other miscellaneous tasks that come up in your business, there are a couple places that can help out.
42. Mechanical Turk, powered by Amazon.com, lets you splice up your task into minute pieces, enabling you to crowdsource those slices of the project to hundreds of people at the same time. As a result, you’ll get your entire project done faster, because loads of Mechanical Turk providers finish their own slices in the time span you allot. You can get a project that would have taken days done in hours or even minutes this way.
43. CrowdFlower, formerly known as Dolores Labs, is a similar service. It harnesses its millions of users to take on parsed sections of bigger projects, many of the same nature as Mechanical Turk’s. Indeed, CrowdFlower sources people through Mechanical Turk (and several other places). They can also help with custom projects for small businesses, as well as enterprise-level crowdsourcing projects.
44. Starting at 5 cents per word, you can have your content translated by a crowd of 1,200 translators around the world on MyGengo. The Japanese company offers translation in 11 languages. The site’s simple, intuitive interface and pay model make human translation almost as easy as plugging something into a machine translator—but with more accuracy, of course.
45. Zipcar is pretty well-known as an easy way to rent a car by the hour, but there are other services that make sense. Car2Go is Austin’s answer to Zipcar; RelayRides takes the community aspect one step further by letting you rent from independent car owners, by the hour or by the day. They’re only in Boston and San Francisco so far, but will hopefully spread to new cities soon.
46. Poptent crowdsources commercials, virals, how-tos and all of the other video needs today’s companies have. Basically a social network for people who make videos, Poptent gathers assignments by mostly Fortune 500 hundred companies, lists them on its site, and Poptent members create videos with the given content and creative brief. After users finish the assignments, the company picks their favorite and pays.
47. Tongal’s tagline is “where the best ideas meet the best filmmakers,” and that pretty much sums up the collaborative videomaking contest website. If you want an ad, you put up your project and prize, and let the masses compete. Users can also be paid based on the number of times people download their videos, so all is not lost, even if a user loses a contest.
Image: University of Scranton/Flickr
48. If you have something you want to get rid of, chances are someone in TerraCycle’s crowd is willing to do it for you. They specialize in both recyclables and “upcyclables,” things that you don’t want, but someone else can use. eCycler is another crowdsourcer that focuses solely on recyclables; Freecycle, on the other hand, is the ideal place to dispose of and pick up things to upcycle.
49. If you need a press release in an hour, content on the quick, translation, or proofreading/editing, Serv.io has officially parsed the single human being formerly known as the writer into an anonymous online crowd of college students, stay-at-home parents, unemployed people, and anyone else seeking a quick job fix. It’s quick, because Serv.io guarantees a 24-hour turnaround time; the proofreaders and other service providers are sourced through sister site CloudCrowd.com. They attract these users in part through quick assignments and guaranteed next-day pay. Sadly, Serv.io automates the personal communication that generally makes writers more effective to a client, and it doesn’t let you use the same writer twice.
50. LetterRep.com takes an interesting slant on niche writing. For $25, you can get a letter—any letter—written in 24 hours. We’re talking letters of acceptance, resignation, hypothecation, rejection, and anything else you can dream up. In a nod to the former glory days of copyright, LetterRep pays writers again if existing letters get purchased more than once.
Drea Knufken is a freelance writer, editor, ghostwriter and content strategist. Her work has appeared in national publications including WIRED, Computerworld, National Geographic, Minyanville, Backpacker Magazine and others. For more information, please visit www.DreaKnufken.com. You can also find Drea via her blog, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.