Can You Provide An Example of Successful Crowdsourcing To Solve A Problem?

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Yes. SInce the advent of the Internet, there have existed forums, discussion groups and so on where users of software or hardware gather to discuss their use of these tools, and get help from other users. This evolved naturally in the early days of the Internet, even before there was actually a "Web" as we know it. Now it's commonplace, and companies often set up their own forums to allow individual customers to crowdsource customer support. It's worth noting why companies do this: To cut costs and to dump the responsiblities for customer support onto the shoulders of unpaid, but passionate people who like to help others.

Oddly enough, most of the really successful forums and support areas that are crowdsourced tend to be developed and run by passionate, third parties unaffliliated with the company.

How It Works (Crowdsourcing)

If you haven't done it (you probably have), you find a website or support area that caters to the problem you have. It might be how to get software to do a particular thing, or how to diagnose a computer problem. Or, you might be refurbishing stereo speakers and want information about a specific technique.

You pose your question/issue, and if things work well, and there are enough people reading and willing and able to help, you have a fair likelihood that somewhere among the many suggestions you'll find an answer that works.

However, it goes beyond that because it may be that no ONE person's response will solve your problem, but when you add in interaction (other people with various experiences), and get to combine answers, evaluate within the crowd, and so on, you'll likely get a decent quality solution. The interplay within the crowd can be important to properly solve problems. Not always.

Of course, it's up to you to be able to identify which of the responses you should try, not always a trivial task. Or, if no single answer works, you need to be part of synthesizing the various answers (combine them), to determine what you should try.

Crowdsourcing Does Work, Sometimes At Least

Crowdsourcing answers when there's a dedicated motivated and decently knowledgeable "crowd" can work, and in fact, often does work. Tech problem solving using online crowds is an example.

Of course, you have to ask whether having access to a single expert employee of the company making the product you are trying to fix might work better. And, it probably would, except that kind of support is pretty much unheard of. Companies really don't do it anymore, or do it in such a way that it takes forever. So, that leaves crowdsourcing as one alternative. At least for some problems.


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Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992 by consultant and book author, Robert Bacal. Robert's books on performance management and reviews have been published by McGraw-Hill. He is available for consultation, training and keynote speaking on performance and management at work.


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