|By Hollis Tibbetts||
|September 7, 2011 10:00 AM EDT||
For the record, I am neither pro-crowdsourcing nor anti-crowdsourcing. For purposes of this article, I'm going to assume that we're talking about software development; however, crowdsourcing could be just as appropriate for situations as diverse as architecture, graphical design, PowerPoint slides or even developing a great pizza recipe.
The Ethics of Crowdsourcing
There has been some criticism of the crowdsourcing model on ethical grounds - for example, that it is unfair to the participants. For the most part, I'm going to stay out of that controversy. Though, if the rules are made clear and are posted up front, then each party can decide on their own whether to participate. To me, that makes it fair. If someone is cheated, that's a different story, and there are other (legal) remedies for that.
We've all engaged in things like job interviews or pitches to venture capital firms where we knew going into it that we would bear the burden of travel, preparation, etc., and that there were no guarantees whatsoever of results. I don't see how crowdsourcing is materially different. But the purpose of this article is to discuss crowdsourcing as a method of creating software - not to debate the ethical points.
Crowdsourcing: Deja Vu?
Crowdsourcing is in some ways like using a swear word. In some situations, it's appropriate and helpful, and in other situations, it's simply a terrible idea and entirely counter-productive. It's up to the business person to intelligently determine whether a particular issue is crowdsource-appropriate.
This is certainly not unique to crowdsourcing - the same can be said for outsourcing (or offshore outsourcing). In fact there are some similarities between the two, in that some years ago, offshore outsourcing grew in popularity - and briefly seemed to be promoted by many as a solution to every problem out there. I see the same thing happening with crowdsourcing today. I'm highly critical of organizations which promote crowdsourcing as a near-panacea. Apart from Duck Tape, nothing is a near-panacea.
With offshore outsourcing, there were some spectacular successes and even more spectacular disasters. If crowdsourcing truly takes off, we'll see the same pattern happen there too. In time, rationality mostly prevailed and outsourcing/offshoring software development became "yet another tool" to be leveraged by the savvy business user.
Shortcomings of Crowdsourcing
Crowdsourcing has many of the same shortcomings as outsourcing, and a few more to boot. Some issues I see:
1) For the most part, the really talented architects and developers are busy with lucrative and demanding jobs. So if you think you're going to get someone to create something better than Hadoop without any compensation guarantees, think again. I'm not saying that there aren't some highly skilled people out there. But one needs to be realistic. You can't open something up to crowdsourcing and expect the world to come to you. On the other hand, your particular problem might be perfect for someone out there.
Although "contests", such as those promoted by organizations like TopCoder, can be useful for improving the quality of potential solutions, the quality of the end-solution is mostly determined by the quality of the talent pool and how well the contest is set up and managed. The fact that there is a contest doesn't change anything to any significant degree - it's still crowdsourcing.
And don't forget the overhead of managing and "judging" any such competition. It's not as easy as determining the winner in a 100 metre dash. As always, a badly defined and poorly run competition is almost certainly a failed one.
2) It's human nature that results and motivation go hand in hand. In the working world, motivation takes many forms, and every person is different. In general, people are motivated by compensation (monetary and non-monetary), respect and visibility from others, a sense of being part of a team, and the satisfaction of a job well done.
Because the nature of the relationship between a crowdsourcing participant and the business is so very ephemeral, the typical person simply doesn't have the underlying motivation.
3) The mathematics of complex systems are against outsourcing in general. By this I mean that the effort to successfully manage such a project increases geometrically relative to the complexity of the problem trying to be solved. Specifically, the effort to fully document the requirements of a project, to quality assure the results, to ensure that the proposed solution not only meets the requirements as set forth, and provide a sound and extensible architectural base for the future increases MUCH faster than the actual effort required to solve the problem.
If you get involved in trying to manage multiple disconnected or semi-connected parties with varying competing or complementary solutions, that makes things even worse.
4) Who's going to maintain all that code? Years ago, I had to write a utility that extracted data and metadata from a proprietary column-store database and stuff it into Oracle 10. A year after I wrote the utility, I needed to go back and modify it. It was a difficult task. It's difficult to maintain your own code. Maintaining someone else's code is far more difficult. Although turnover is common in any organization, supportability of in-house developed code is significantly easier than externally acquired code.
5) Collaboration with internal team members is an important part of most development efforts, and this is something that is difficult with a crowdsourcing solution.
Advantages of Crowdsourcing
All that said, crowdsourcing has some real benefits. True advantages. For some projects (or project components), it's a great idea.
1) It can be highly cost effective when used properly (i.e. managed properly and employed for an appropriate class of problem).
2) The wide range of potential problem-solvers out there mean that some very interesting and innovative solutions can pop up.
3) External people aren't constrained by the mental "boxes" and preconceived notions that internal people create for themselves.
4) When used properly, the downside of crowdsourcing can be minimized.
Is Crowdsourcing Right for Your Project? How Do You Minimize Risk?
Anyhow, all this comes down to the old maxim: use the right tool for the job. Some projects just aren't cut out for crowdsourcing, and some are.
That being said, you can't fix stupid, and some people insist on using a hammer where a screwdriver is the correct implement. So if you cut off your finger using a bandsaw while trying to open up a can of tuna fish, don't go blaming the bandsaw.
If you are considering crowdsourcing, consider your answers to the following questions. They may help you determine if your project is truly crowdsource-appropriate, and help you minimize the risk and/or impact of failure.
a) How much effort is required to appropriately define the problem as well as requirements for the solution...up front.
b) How much effort will it take to manage the crowdsourcing process?
c) How much calendar time will be expended if the crowdsourcing process fails to yield a useful solution?
d) What is the impact on the business if crowdsourcing doesn't work for this particular problem?
e) What is the impact on the business of using internal people instead of crowdsourcing? What is the "opportunity cost" of using internal people?
f) Can you define "pull the plug" points for a crowdsourcing project? For example, how many parties express interest in working on your problem?
g) Can you establish some preliminary indicators that allow you to predict success likelihood for the final solution?
h) How do you decide between "pull the plug" vs. "go back and try to remedy the situation" if the leading indicators aren't looking good?
i) Can you define "success"? Do you have criteria in place for judging and testing solutions?
Crowdsourcing: Post Script
For an excellent followup on this article, please read "Maximizing CrowdSource Success" - perspectives from CrowdSourcing pioneer and TopCoder founder Jack Hughes. Jack gives additional insight into many of the "must ask" questions to help readers determine whether crowdsourcing is appropriate for them - and, if so, how to maximize chance of success.
SYS-CON Events announced today that HPM Networks will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. For 20 years, HPM Networks has been integrating technology solutions that solve complex business challenges. HPM Networks has designed solutions for both SMB and enterprise customers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
Aug. 3, 2015 06:45 PM EDT Reads: 538
For IoT to grow as quickly as analyst firms’ project, a lot is going to fall on developers to quickly bring applications to market. But the lack of a standard development platform threatens to slow growth and make application development more time consuming and costly, much like we’ve seen in the mobile space. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mike Weiner, Product Manager of the Omega DevCloud with KORE Telematics Inc., discussed the evolving requirements for developers as IoT matures and conducted a live demonstration of how quickly application development can happen when the need to comply wit...
Aug. 2, 2015 11:15 AM EDT Reads: 370
The Internet of Everything (IoE) brings together people, process, data and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before – transforming information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom. IoE creates new capabilities, richer experiences, and unprecedented opportunities to improve business and government operations, decision making and mission support capabilities.
Aug. 1, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 345
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Red Hat's Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems, described how to revolutionize your archit...
Jul. 30, 2015 07:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,431
MuleSoft has announced the findings of its 2015 Connectivity Benchmark Report on the adoption and business impact of APIs. The findings suggest traditional businesses are quickly evolving into "composable enterprises" built out of hundreds of connected software services, applications and devices. Most are embracing the Internet of Things (IoT) and microservices technologies like Docker. A majority are integrating wearables, like smart watches, and more than half plan to generate revenue with APIs within the next year.
Jul. 30, 2015 02:30 PM EDT Reads: 151
Growth hacking is common for startups to make unheard-of progress in building their business. Career Hacks can help Geek Girls and those who support them (yes, that's you too, Dad!) to excel in this typically male-dominated world. Get ready to learn the facts: Is there a bias against women in the tech / developer communities? Why are women 50% of the workforce, but hold only 24% of the STEM or IT positions? Some beginnings of what to do about it! In her Opening Keynote at 16th Cloud Expo, Sandy Carter, IBM General Manager Cloud Ecosystem and Developers, and a Social Business Evangelist, d...
Jul. 30, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,090
In his keynote at 16th Cloud Expo, Rodney Rogers, CEO of Virtustream, discussed the evolution of the company from inception to its recent acquisition by EMC – including personal insights, lessons learned (and some WTF moments) along the way. Learn how Virtustream’s unique approach of combining the economics and elasticity of the consumer cloud model with proper performance, application automation and security into a platform became a breakout success with enterprise customers and a natural fit for the EMC Federation.
Jul. 30, 2015 09:00 AM EDT Reads: 2,182
The Internet of Things is not only adding billions of sensors and billions of terabytes to the Internet. It is also forcing a fundamental change in the way we envision Information Technology. For the first time, more data is being created by devices at the edge of the Internet rather than from centralized systems. What does this mean for today's IT professional? In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed this very serious issue of profound change in the industry.
Jul. 29, 2015 03:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,305
Discussions about cloud computing are evolving into discussions about enterprise IT in general. As enterprises increasingly migrate toward their own unique clouds, new issues such as the use of containers and microservices emerge to keep things interesting. In this Power Panel at 16th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed the state of cloud computing today, and what enterprise IT professionals need to know about how the latest topics and trends affect their organization.
Jul. 29, 2015 02:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,214
It is one thing to build single industrial IoT applications, but what will it take to build the Smart Cities and truly society-changing applications of the future? The technology won’t be the problem, it will be the number of parties that need to work together and be aligned in their motivation to succeed. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jason Mondanaro, Director, Product Management at Metanga, discussed how you can plan to cooperate, partner, and form lasting all-star teams to change the world and it starts with business models and monetization strategies.
Jul. 28, 2015 04:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,779
Converging digital disruptions is creating a major sea change - Cisco calls this the Internet of Everything (IoE). IoE is the network connection of People, Process, Data and Things, fueled by Cloud, Mobile, Social, Analytics and Security, and it represents a $19Trillion value-at-stake over the next 10 years. In her keynote at @ThingsExpo, Manjula Talreja, VP of Cisco Consulting Services, discussed IoE and the enormous opportunities it provides to public and private firms alike. She will share what businesses must do to thrive in the IoE economy, citing examples from several industry sectors.
Jul. 28, 2015 11:00 AM EDT Reads: 2,054
There will be 150 billion connected devices by 2020. New digital businesses have already disrupted value chains across every industry. APIs are at the center of the digital business. You need to understand what assets you have that can be exposed digitally, what their digital value chain is, and how to create an effective business model around that value chain to compete in this economy. No enterprise can be complacent and not engage in the digital economy. Learn how to be the disruptor and not the disruptee.
Jul. 27, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 2,049
Akana has released Envision, an enhanced API analytics platform that helps enterprises mine critical insights across their digital eco-systems, understand their customers and partners and offer value-added personalized services. “In today’s digital economy, data-driven insights are proving to be a key differentiator for businesses. Understanding the data that is being tunneled through their APIs and how it can be used to optimize their business and operations is of paramount importance,” said Alistair Farquharson, CTO of Akana.
Jul. 27, 2015 09:00 AM EDT Reads: 337
Business as usual for IT is evolving into a "Make or Buy" decision on a service-by-service conversation with input from the LOBs. How does your organization move forward with cloud? In his general session at 16th Cloud Expo, Paul Maravei, Regional Sales Manager, Hybrid Cloud and Managed Services at Cisco, discusses how Cisco and its partners offer a market-leading portfolio and ecosystem of cloud infrastructure and application services that allow you to uniquely and securely combine cloud business applications and services across multiple cloud delivery models.
Jul. 27, 2015 08:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,914
The enterprise market will drive IoT device adoption over the next five years. In his session at @ThingsExpo, John Greenough, an analyst at BI Intelligence, division of Business Insider, analyzed how companies will adopt IoT products and the associated cost of adopting those products. John Greenough is the lead analyst covering the Internet of Things for BI Intelligence- Business Insider’s paid research service. Numerous IoT companies have cited his analysis of the IoT. Prior to joining BI Intelligence, he worked analyzing bank technology for Corporate Insight and The Clearing House Payment...
Jul. 26, 2015 09:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,594
"Optimal Design is a technology integration and product development firm that specializes in connecting devices to the cloud," stated Joe Wascow, Co-Founder & CMO of Optimal Design, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City.
Jul. 25, 2015 02:00 PM EDT Reads: 406
SYS-CON Events announced today that CommVault has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. A singular vision – a belief in a better way to address current and future data management needs – guides CommVault in the development of Singular Information Management® solutions for high-performance data protection, universal availability and simplified management of data on complex storage networks. CommVault's exclusive single-platform architecture gives companies unp...
Jul. 25, 2015 01:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,979
Electric Cloud and Arynga have announced a product integration partnership that will bring Continuous Delivery solutions to the automotive Internet-of-Things (IoT) market. The joint solution will help automotive manufacturers, OEMs and system integrators adopt DevOps automation and Continuous Delivery practices that reduce software build and release cycle times within the complex and specific parameters of embedded and IoT software systems.
Jul. 25, 2015 12:15 PM EDT Reads: 490
"ciqada is a combined platform of hardware modules and server products that lets people take their existing devices or new devices and lets them be accessible over the Internet for their users," noted Geoff Engelstein of ciqada, a division of Mars International, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City.
Jul. 25, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,562
Internet of Things is moving from being a hype to a reality. Experts estimate that internet connected cars will grow to 152 million, while over 100 million internet connected wireless light bulbs and lamps will be operational by 2020. These and many other intriguing statistics highlight the importance of Internet powered devices and how market penetration is going to multiply many times over in the next few years.
Jul. 25, 2015 09:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,509