Going Along with the Crowd

Ann All

Yeah, we know. There probably isn't a business technology concept out there that's more nebulous than Web 2.0. Some of its concepts sound downright goofy -- and few have proven themselves in the real world.

So some folks are certain to view the concept of crowdsourcing -- having outside customers or other constituents help with a variety of business tasks like product development (and doing it for nothing or for little pay) -- with a cynical eye.

Sounds a little too utopian, right? Consider some of the corporate giants that are using crowdsourcing -- Eli Lilly and Procter & Gamble, to offer two notable examples. It offers a way to tap into user needs and desires that likely can't be matched by any software program or database. It builds customer loyalty and goodwill, and may help companies trim their R&D budgets at a time when they are wrestling with the need to produce more innovation and ideas -- but without breaking the bank.

At least one blogger has pointed out that crowdsourcing isn't going to be as simple or as inexpensive as it seems. And considering that many companies struggle with internal project management, it's a valid concern.

There's also the risk that companies could drain all of the creativity right out of crowdsourcing by trying too hard to "manage" it. And we wonder if a customer who creates what turns out to be a billion-dollar idea is going to be satisfied with what amounts to a pat on the back for his effort.

Still, it's an intriguing idea. And unlike some of the other Web 2.0 ideas we've heard about, it's one that has a pretty apparent value proposition.

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