Threadless. iStockphoto. Wikipedia. Kiva. Google. What do these sites have in common? They all tap into the power of the masses, in a process journalist Jeff Howe termed crowdsourcing and originally wrote about in a 2006 article for Wired.
Howe has now come out with a book about the phenomenon, Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business. I just finished it and in my opinion, it’s essential reading for anyone who hopes to develop online communities or make use of user-generated content – two strategies that are top priorities these days for many magazines and their websites. On the one hand, it’s inspirational – Howe describes the path to success of the sites (or communities) mentioned above as well as others you may not have heard of, such as InnoCentive, an organization that provides crowdsourced R&D to companies such as Procter & Gamble. But the book is also a cautionary tale of how community-building can go wrong, especially when the primary motivation is profit. (Which isn’t to say making money can’t be a successful secondary goal.)
Howe also passes on a lot of useful information, such as the experience of Linda Parker, the online communities editor at the Cincinnati Enquirer. When discussing soliciting reader submissions, Howe writes:
“It used to read, ‘Be a Citizen Journalist,'” Parker says. “And no one ever clicked on it. Then we said, ‘Tell Us Your Story,’ and still nothing. For some reason, ‘Get Published’ were the magic words.”
I love this proof of the value of experimentation and how the smallest things can make a huge difference.
In short, you should buy the book and read it. Then please, let me know what you think.