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Cyber Sweatshops

We Are Smarter Than Me should be of particular interest to those involved in product development (it should go without saying that marketers will find it valuable) as it points out the ways and means people—large numbers of people, potentially—can be tapped for their likes, dislikes, ideas, issues, concerns, observations, etc. about what is being developed—or even, as is the case with an example in the book, Cambrian House, whether something should be developed at all.

We Are Smarter Than Me should be of particular interest to those involved in product development (it should go without saying that marketers will find it valuable) as it points out the ways and means people—large numbers of people, potentially—can be tapped for their likes, dislikes, ideas, issues, concerns, observations, etc. about what is being developed—or even, as is the case with an example in the book, Cambrian House, whether something should be developed at all. Apparently, when Michael Sikorsky, founder of Cambrian House, pitched investors he raised $2.6 million says, “We don’t know what we’re going to build, who will build it, or who will buy what we make.” But apparently he’s created a structure that involves people who are likely to have never been in the same room together—or maybe not in the same postal code—making decisions in that regard. (He’s also raised additional millions.)
The subject of the book is “crowdsourcing,” of using, mainly, on-line access to people that are parts of specific communities of interest. Think only of what a vast, eclectic array of people have done and are doing in creating Wikipedia. Then apply that sort of approach to commercial products and other related undertakings.

Which brings me to something a bit mystifying. While the orchestrators of the obtained knowledge from the crowds are, at least as seems to be the case from examples cited in We Are Smarter, interested in generating revenue, the word “volunteer” appears with notably frequency within the examples. The orchestrators are either getting jobs done for free (the authors note: “Many members of the Internet community are happy to help you for free if you can create a situation that will satisfy their needs or desires”—and then sell it to them?), or for “points” (Cambrian House parlays royalty points called “Cambros”), or for not much. MasterCard ran an on-line contest for producing versions of its “Priceless” ads: “Although no cash prizes were offered, the contest drew more than 100,000 entries.” Or “L’Oreal paid $1,000 for a stunning and sophisticated viewer-created ad that would have cost it 150 times as much if produced in-house.” Some people are worried about jobs being outsourced to the Far East. It seems as though what is being promoted here is outsourcing to cyberspace.

To be sure, using the Internet to gain the input of people is something that is highly useful and valuable. But there needs to be value for those who are contributing, as well, something which is not sufficiently underlined in We Are Smarter Than Me.—GSV