|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.
The Open Compute Project is a collective effort by Facebook and a number of players in the datacenter industry to bring lessons learned from the social media giant's giant IT deployment to the rest of the world. Datacenters account for 3% of global electricity consumption – about the same as all of Switzerland or the Czech Republic -- according to people I met at the recent Open Compute Summit in San Jose. With increasing mobility at the edge of the cloud and vast new dataflows being predicted with the growth of the Internet of Things (and The Coming Age of Many Zettabytes) in the near...
Mar. 27, 2015 01:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,713
GENBAND has announced that SageNet is leveraging the Nuvia platform to deliver Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) to its large base of retail and enterprise customers. Nuvia’s cloud-based solution provides SageNet’s customers with a full suite of business communications and collaboration tools. Two large national SageNet retail customers have recently signed up to deploy the Nuvia platform and the company will continue to sell the service to new and existing customers. Nuvia’s capabilities include HD voice, video, multimedia messaging, mobility, conferencing, Web collaboration, deskt...
Mar. 27, 2015 01:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,325
Wearable technology was dominant at this year’s International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) , and MWC was no exception to this trend. New versions of favorites, such as the Samsung Gear (three new products were released: the Gear 2, the Gear 2 Neo and the Gear Fit), shared the limelight with new wearables like Pebble Time Steel (the new premium version of the company’s previously released smartwatch) and the LG Watch Urbane. The most dramatic difference at MWC was an emphasis on presenting wearables as fashion accessories and moving away from the original clunky technology associated with t...
Mar. 26, 2015 11:45 PM EDT Reads: 997
The WebRTC Summit 2014 New York, to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY, announces that its Call for Papers is open. Topics include all aspects of improving IT delivery by eliminating waste through automated business models leveraging cloud technologies. WebRTC Summit is co-located with 16th International Cloud Expo, @ThingsExpo, Big Data Expo, and DevOps Summit.
Mar. 26, 2015 10:45 PM EDT Reads: 1,227
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cisco, the worldwide leader in IT that transforms how people connect, communicate and collaborate, has been named “Gold Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Cisco makes amazing things happen by connecting the unconnected. Cisco has shaped the future of the Internet by becoming the worldwide leader in transforming how people connect, communicate and collaborate. Cisco and our partners are building the platform for the Internet of Everything by connecting the...
Mar. 26, 2015 07:00 PM EDT Reads: 5,021
15th Cloud Expo, which took place Nov. 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, expanded the conference content of @ThingsExpo, Big Data Expo, and DevOps Summit to include two developer events. IBM held a Bluemix Developer Playground on November 5 and ElasticBox held a Hackathon on November 6. Both events took place on the expo floor. The Bluemix Developer Playground, for developers of all levels, highlighted the ease of use of Bluemix, its services and functionality and provide short-term introductory projects that developers can complete between sessions.
Mar. 26, 2015 06:30 PM EDT Reads: 4,603
Temasys has announced senior management additions to its team. Joining are David Holloway as Vice President of Commercial and Nadine Yap as Vice President of Product. Over the past 12 months Temasys has doubled in size as it adds new customers and expands the development of its Skylink platform. Skylink leads the charge to move WebRTC, traditionally seen as a desktop, browser based technology, to become a ubiquitous web communications technology on web and mobile, as well as Internet of Things compatible devices.
Mar. 26, 2015 06:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,648
SYS-CON Events announced today that robomq.io will exhibit at SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. robomq.io is an interoperable and composable platform that connects any device to any application. It helps systems integrators and the solution providers build new and innovative products and service for industries requiring monitoring or intelligence from devices and sensors.
Mar. 26, 2015 06:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,237
The list of ‘new paradigm’ technologies that now surrounds us appears to be at an all time high. From cloud computing and Big Data analytics to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and the Internet of Things (IoT), today we have to deal with what the industry likes to call ‘paradigm shifts’ at every level of IT. This is disruption; of course, we understand that – change is almost always disruptive.
Mar. 26, 2015 05:15 PM EDT Reads: 833
WebRTC is an up-and-coming standard that enables real-time voice and video to be directly embedded into browsers making the browser a primary user interface for communications and collaboration. WebRTC runs in a number of browsers today and is currently supported in over a billion installed browsers globally, across a range of platform OS and devices. Today, organizations that choose to deploy WebRTC applications and use a host machine that supports audio through USB or Bluetooth can use Plantronics products to connect and transit or receive the audio associated with the WebRTC session.
Mar. 26, 2015 05:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,470
Docker is an excellent platform for organizations interested in running microservices. It offers portability and consistency between development and production environments, quick provisioning times, and a simple way to isolate services. In his session at DevOps Summit at 16th Cloud Expo, Shannon Williams, co-founder of Rancher Labs, will walk through these and other benefits of using Docker to run microservices, and provide an overview of RancherOS, a minimalist distribution of Linux designed expressly to run Docker. He will also discuss Rancher, an orchestration and service discovery platf...
Mar. 26, 2015 04:15 PM EDT Reads: 2,294
Sonus Networks introduced the Sonus WebRTC Services Solution, a virtualized Web Real-Time Communications (WebRTC) offer, purpose-built for the Cloud. The WebRTC Services Solution provides signaling from WebRTC-to-WebRTC applications and interworking from WebRTC-to-Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), delivering advanced real-time communications capabilities on mobile applications and on websites, which are accessible via a browser.
Mar. 26, 2015 04:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,617
SYS-CON Events announced today that Aria Systems, the leading innovator in recurring revenue, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Proven by the world’s most demanding enterprises, including AAA NCNU, Constant Contact, Falck, Hootsuite, Pitney Bowes, Telekom Denmark, and VMware, Aria helps enterprises grow their recurring revenue businesses. With Aria’s end-to-end active monetization platform, global brands can get to market faster with a wider variety of products and services, while maximizin...
Mar. 26, 2015 04:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,459
SYS-CON Media announced today that @WebRTCSummit Blog, the largest WebRTC resource in the world, has been launched. @WebRTCSummit Blog offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. @WebRTCSummit Blog can be bookmarked ▸ Here @WebRTCSummit conference site can be bookmarked ▸ Here
Mar. 26, 2015 04:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,580
SYS-CON Events announced today that Alert Logic, the leading provider of Security-as-a-Service solutions for the cloud, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo® and DevOps Summit 2015 New York, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 17th International Cloud Expo® and DevOps Summit 2015 Silicon Valley, which will take place November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Mar. 26, 2015 04:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,459
SYS-CON Events announced today that Vitria Technology, Inc. will exhibit at SYS-CON’s @ThingsExpo, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Vitria will showcase the company’s new IoT Analytics Platform through live demonstrations at booth #330. Vitria’s IoT Analytics Platform, fully integrated and powered by an operational intelligence engine, enables customers to rapidly build and operationalize advanced analytics to deliver timely business outcomes for use cases across the industrial, enterprise, and consumer segments.
Mar. 26, 2015 03:30 PM EDT Reads: 2,046
SYS-CON Events announced today that Solgenia will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Solgenia is the global market leader in Cloud Collaboration and Cloud Infrastructure software solutions. Designed to “Bridge the Gap” between Personal and Professional Social, Mobile and Cloud user experiences, our solutions help large and medium-sized organizations dr...
Mar. 26, 2015 03:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,533
SYS-CON Events announced today that Liaison Technologies, a leading provider of data management and integration cloud services and solutions, has been named "Silver Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Liaison Technologies is a recognized market leader in providing cloud-enabled data integration and data management solutions to break down complex information barriers, enabling enterprises to make smarter decisions, faster.
Mar. 26, 2015 03:00 PM EDT Reads: 3,307
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, examined three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective storage designed to handle the massive surge in back-end data in a world where timely analytics is e...
Mar. 26, 2015 02:45 PM EDT Reads: 4,633
SYS-CON Events announced today that Akana, formerly SOA Software, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo® New York, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Akana’s comprehensive suite of API Management, API Security, Integrated SOA Governance, and Cloud Integration solutions helps businesses accelerate digital transformation by securely extending their reach across multiple channels – mobile, cloud and Internet of Things. Akana enables enterprises to share data as APIs, connect and integrate applications, drive part...
Mar. 26, 2015 02:15 PM EDT Reads: 1,312