The Myth of Predatory Crowdsourcing

As anyone who reads this blog knows, we are invested in several companies that use  some form of crowd participation to drive their business model.  As a result, I tend to spend a fair amount of time discussing the concept of “crowdsourcing. ”  What always amazes me is how many people, when confronted with the topic, immediately get on their soapbox about ”predatory” practices.

Their argument goes something like this:  Any business model that solicits work from many — while only paying a few — constitutes truly abusive behavior.   This type of merit based pay takes advantage of defenseless participants, violates the spirit of human decency, and ranks approximately half a step above human slavery.  And while you may think I am being dramatic for the sake of argument — I am not. You would be surprised by how strongly people feel about this topic.

Up until now, I had always dismissed these arguments as reactionary rants from those most threatened by the disruption of crowd participation within their respective industries.  I have been forced to re-think this response, however, as the debate has continued to rage – even among those within the crowdsourcing community — and created a division of the ranks between the self-identified “good” crowdsourcers (you know who you are) and the rest of the greedy lot.

Having given it some further thought, I’ve come to a couple of conclusions.  First, it is my continued belief that any system that allows participants to self-select in or out at their own discretion is, by definition, non-predatory.  It just doesn’t make sense to say that people who have opted in to an open workforce are being taken advantage of by being put to work.  Am I missing something?

Furthermore, criticizing companies for failing to compensate crowd participants ignores the fact that most crowd members are not motivated by money.  The promise of riches is not why they signed up in the first place.  If it were, they would quickly realize they had made a bad choice and move on (again, this idea of opting in and out is hard to ignore). People who participate as members of the crowd do so for a variety of reasons including peer recognition, community interaction, passion for a cause,  and just plain fun.   If these are sufficient drivers to keep people involved, then so be it.

Are there consequences for companies that under pay or mistreat their talent pool?  Sure, but that is always the case.  It is certainly not unique to companies that crowdsource.  The bottom line is that attempting to create business efficiencies, to do more faster, or even to disrupt an entire industry through the use of a crowd, does not equate to slave labor.  Therefore, I would suggest we stop arguing about how crowdsourcing is hurting people in the workforce, and start focusing on how it can be used as a powerful tool in our rapidly evolving economy.


  1. toby murdock says:

    i’m totally in it for just the thrill of the exploitation. ;-)

    [for the record: i'm joking]

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