Rebecca Caroe

Crowdsourcing for Creatives Derek Powazek

Posted by March 10, 2008
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Key learning: Community is Grown not built. “building community” is for architects not online. Read the wisdom of crowds. And build the tools people can use and trust them to use appropriately.

Oldtimers may remember Fray from very old web.  Derek started it in 1996 as a live story telling site.  Each story ended with the question “when has this happened to you?” .  This started his interest in community online and how to invite participation.  

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” Hunter S Thompson

Today the web enables people to get exposure that used to the exclusive preserve of adults, authorities and experts.  So what can you do if you want crowds on your site?

Content owners have 3 lies they tell themselves when confronted with free content:

1.  Everyone on the net is an idiot. 

2 Good stuff is too hard to find

3. You can’t make any money.

1.     Everyone on the net is an idiot… for past 10 years the mainstream media only focused on this.  But refute it using Google – value based on number of links to pages… proxy for votes and voters are important. Kim Pedersen’s Backyard Monorail – 300 feet of track costing $4000.   He shares what he knows for free – created a community of shared interest.  Wikipedia because it was the first makes it a bad site to copy, now.  But the small community of editors who do the most (0.7% of users) are key to small edits/spell checkers (tend the  Drafted Postsgarden) and new users who post substantive new articles.  

2.    Good stuff is too hard to find. Traditional ways of finding good stuff is human editors (magazines / newspapers), non-traditional editors took this and applied to the web (Amazon where users were reviewers) and moderators.  Computers took on the task (text search), Google’s page rank (more sophisticated weighted by incoming link) and technorati.  But the middle path of hybrid using both human and computers is where most of the opportunity lies today (Flickr interestingness, community vote and best of both).  Flickr algorithm is voting by actions (going to look at photos).  Displayed by leader board by day. This created a competition and people trying to gain the system.  Later they made a 7 day version, recent randomised of 9 images. 

The Wisdom of crowds – the number 1 book to read.  It is about how people can use groups to be smart.  Summarised as selfish behaviour aggregated for a common good.  The interaction is simple – key.  Simple questions.  “did you like this?”.  You need diversity across the spectrum to make this work. But selfishness is important – design for selfishness [we think our products are awesome and anyone who disagrees is an idiot!]  High on our own supply.  If you can create a desire for the user to put their voice onto something you may succeed.  Rewards can be ego or money.

Assignment Zero using wiki software collaboration with Wired Magazine – crowdsouring stories. The crowd didn’t want to participate by writing stories.  So they changed to asking for research… asked people to sign up for interviews (instant response!).  Doing an interview was a simple task compared to writing something.  Read a list of people and decide to take action by asking a few questions… their editors condensed into print-worthy text.   Using crowdsourcing as a cost-saving measure doesn’t work.  Communities must be cultivated, respected and managed if they are to create economic value” Jeff Howe who coined the phrase crowdsourcing.

3.    You can’t make any money.  Threadless is a great example – t shirt store with no designers, just an interface.  The best get printed, bought. A trusted middle man.  Golden tag in 1 shirt per 1000 (Willy Wonker thing), member forum for people who’ve won in the past… cultivating a winner class.  Have a plan with good answers ready for when you get ‘busted’! 

Derek's new startup Pixish – bringing the threadless happiness to any image based contest.  Cautionary tales – Yahoo games Wii site…. create niche sites pulling stories, photos and stuff tagged Wii including a strip of photos from Flickr.  They didn't’ give the users any way of opting out… all sorts of things tagged Wii including Yahoo sucks, baby weeing etc…  It wasn’t a legal reason.  Because there was no clear way to opt out users rebelled.  Copious opt ins and opt outs are needed.  Need a group opt in.  GM Tahoe Apprentice Campaign.  User generated content to make an advert…. but users put their own captions on “Waaa? No iPod plug-in??” and you could only use their existing photos and videos… you could add text over the video.  “We paved the prairies” and “The ultimate padded cell!  “Global warming isn’t a pretty SUV ad”, “The Earth is now your bitch!”.  They designed for their own selfishness not the participant.  Narrow scope of creativity – text only.  Content was greedy – couldn’t export to any other place….YouTube or your site.  The audience was wrong – this should have been just GM owners not the entire internet!  Cf Saturn owners club.  But it worked.. really well. the microsite had 600k visitors in 3 weeks with an average 9 minutes online and many visited too which was what they wanted.  

Community is Grown not built.  “building community” is for architects not online.  

How to do it.  5 steps

  1. Give people tools they want
  2. Trust them to do good
  3. Reward good contributions
  4. Punish bad contributions
  5. Expect the unexpected

Punishment isn’t deleting swear words but limiting the effect of problematic users (timeouts, community boot outs for 1 hour voted by half the users).  Geotagging from Flickr – on day 1 Iceland people came together to spell the word “Fuck” on their photos….. a lot of photos were needed on the map.  A collaboration in real time. 

Weird things will happen.  Goal is to channel in the right areas and then respond appropriately. 

Slides on


how to incentivise forums.  Offering swag etc.  This is valid but ego stroking can be more effective.  Look at whether it is solving a problem and do people want to talk to each other.  Member of the week programme.  Mail people t shirts and ask users what they really want.

What to do with non-winning entries on Pixish.  You can delete at any time.  You own it.

Mixing pro and amateur stuff in a mashup site – concerns about quality.  Not designed to replace pros but to bring opportunity to a wider scale – meritocracy if the system works well.  

Creative commons is a great idea but has ‘kinks’ one of the key issues are publishers who don’t understand it. online aggregator of angst!

Rewards that aren't bribes.  Start with payment in kind and then move onto cash when you can afford it.  Not offensively low e.g. $10.  

Does online trading work to encourage amateurs.  There is more talent out there then there is opportunity.  

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