I’ve been hearing a lot about crowdsourcing lately. In general it’s a good idea, tapping the collective brainpower of your fans or customer base to generate ideas you might normally have to rely on hired professionals for. It’s been around for a long time, (think Betty Crocker recipe contests, American Idol or the 2002 vote for the new M&Ms color), but the Internet has made crowdsourcing infinitely easier and the scale infinitely larger. The X Prize Foundation did this in 2004 when they offered a $10 million prize for the first reusable privately-built spacecraft. $10 million may seem like a lot of money, but it’s a fraction of what it would have cost NASA to develop in both time and money. Why? Because they only had to pay for success. They got the trial and error of the other contestants for free.
In a slightly different vein, Apple recently began offering free iPhone App development courses through Stanford University and iTunes. The cost to Apple is minimal. They just open up the developers’ software and course materials, all of which already exist. In return they get a huge influx of iPhone Apps, all developed free. They post the ones they like to their App Store, and sit back while they collect their share of the profits. Of course, the developers are getting a great deal, too. They’re getting everything they need, from the education to the the global distribution platform, to bring a useful and potentially profitable product to market.
And that’s what can be so great about crowdsourcing. It’s symbiotic, mutually beneficial, win-win. It’s become so popular that there’s even a crowdsourcing project designed to make crowdsourcing better (everything good goes meta). It’s called “The Better Project,” and while it doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of feedback yet, if I know the Intertubes, it’s only a matter of time.
So how can you use crowdsourcing in your small business? It can be as simple as sending a survey, holding a contest, or opening up a blog post to comments. You can also produce idea collections, as books, zines, bundles of fabric or free downloadable art. You can even build your entire business around crowdsourcing, like Threadless or Prickie. Either way, as long as your customers are getting something out of it, whether it’s a prize, a commission or just better products, they’ll be happy to share their knowledge.
Long Live the Internet! April 28, 2008
Tags: blogging, blogosphere, broker, comment, criticism, customs, social surplus
I love the Internet, and especially the blogosphere. Here’s why: yesterday a gentleman named Mr. Deslauriers submitted a comment to my post about U.S. Customs that was less than complimentary. It’s a little long, but I suggest reading it if you haven’t already.
My first instinct was to go on the defensive, despite the relative politeness with which the criticism was delivered. I briefly considered several routes: deleting the comment, editing the post, and dissecting/justifying every accusation with a well-considered retort. But I soon realized that that’s just e-fascism. Why write a blog if you’re not going to accept certain comments? Plus, on almost every count, the man is right.
Firstly, I didn’t make the distinction between a customs broker and freight forwarder. Mostly this is because for me (and everyone else I know who is a small importer), this is the same person, but it still should have been included. I then publicly insulted the entire profession (also because I and everyone I know who is a small importer has found their broker/forwarder to be somewhat shady). Making sweeping generalizations about any group of people is a mistake, however, and I regret it and apologize for it.
As for the simplistic and somewhat incorrect presentation of my information, such as “A customs broker: this guy gets your stuff off the dock and onto a truck,” I will concede that there are perhaps more accurate phrasings I could have used, but I was using a deliberate teaching tool. The above statement is true if your customs broker is also your freight forwarder, and is mostly true even if they’re not (a customs broker allows your container to leave the port, even if they don’t actually move it onto the truck). In the same way that your high school science teacher started by teaching you Newtonian physics, even though Relativity makes the facts simplistic and somewhat incorrect, I write simplified accounts of my experiences so that complete novices can walk away with a basic understanding of the subject at hand. In other words, I post the information I wish I had received when I was trying to figure out my first steps. I assume (perhaps incorrectly) that if my readers decide to be importers themselves, that they will do their own further research before moving forward.
On the whole, Mr. Deslauriers gave me some much needed perspective on a number of fronts. He reminded me that a blog is more helpful when presented as a personal account than it is as a set of prescriptive instructions (especially coming from a beginner like me), that prejudicial generalizations are more counter-productive than clarifying, and that comments that criticize are a much better use of the “social surplus” than those that praise.
I have asked Mr. Deslauriers if he would agree to be interviewed via e-mail so that I can put together some importing information that comes straight from an expert, rather than from the link-trawling of a beginner. Whether he agrees or not, he has made this a better blog by challenging me. I hope more of you will do the same. Thank you, Mr. Deslauriers.