Industry – A Cloudy Debate


Since my blog duel with The Daily Crowdsource’s David Bratvold about whether crowdsourcing is an industry or not, we have let the forum simmer a bit on the topic and gathered some interesting points from crowdsourcing leaders and enthusiasts. You’ll remember that just over a week ago, we began a part academic, part linguistic debate about what to call crowdsourcing. We were asking: Is it an industry? Is it a work process? Or, is it something for which we still don’t have a proper name? And this week has also allowed me to think about the whole discussion from some distance – up in the cloud, if you will.

After reading all the responses, I’m willing to say, Yes, crowdsourcing has been around as a work process in some sense for a while. But an increased level of organization and sector cooperation (i.e. trade shows, conferences, etc.) has created the feeling of an industry. At the same time I can see that the logic of using that word doesn’t quite fit what it is.

Mr. Bratvold says, “People have been using the term ‘industry’ because they don’t know what to call it. It’s still such a new process. I’ll be bold and state that what term we use does change our perceptions of it.”

Mr. Bratvold’s point is a valid one. And, since I don’t like admitting defeat, I will hand it over to our crowd – and quote some of the best responses we got from the crowdsourcing “community,” and let them do the talking.

David Alan Grier, author of “When Computers Were Human”, writes, “I think crowdsourcing is so often referred to as an industry because of its novel status. It’s hard for people to get past that novelty to the realization that, at its core, crowdsourcing is essentially an extremely versatile tool.

“Lots of companies use ovens in their production pipeline, from small bakeries to multinational pharmaceutical companies, yet I’ve never heard anyone refer to them collectively as an oven industry (that would be the group of companies that actually makes the ovens). The oven is just one of the methods they use to achieve a certain output. Crowdsourcing is just that, a method used to achieve a certain output.

“The more I think about it the more I feel that even another word used in the same grammatical constructions will risk forcing crowdsourcing into a box it doesn’t quite fit into. I think that it’s not only the word industry that needs to be changed, but the association in people’s minds between crowdsourcing and industry.”

Alek Felstiner weighs in: “But I don’t see the danger in referring to the crowdsourcing industry, as long as you’re actually referring to the firms that provide crowdsourcing services & support. That is how I used the term in the piece you linked.

“I don’t think it strains the imagination to contemplate the possibility that a management process can be made into a product. There is certainly a “subcontracting industry,” despite the fact that one could also accurately describe subcontracting as a management process.

“Now, that doesn’t make it any more accurate or appropriate to make sweeping generalizations. … And, of course, crowdsourcing can exist outside this industry, as a management process or a theoretical concept. But an industry does exist.”

Steve Bynghall says he’s used ‘industry’ to describe crowdsourcing in the past, “… I guess people are going to use the ‘i word’ to mean a community of commercial organizations operating in a particular sphere or with some common interest.”

But, he also calls attention to the linguistic discrepancy, “You are right – it will never be an industry as soon as large organizations use crowdsourcing for their processes. For example you might regard P+G Connect as an example of crowdsourcing but you would never say Proctor & Gamble were in the ‘crowdsourcing industry’.”

And I’ll leave you with Mr. Bynghall’s observation pinpointing the crux of this discussion:

“… there is some sort of crowdsourcing community – there must be if there is a debate about what to call it.”

Thanks for everyone who participated in keeping the debate lively, and for being such a connected crowd!

Till next week,


Dieser Artikel wurde am 14.July 2011 von Wolfgang Kitza geschrieben.

Wolfgang Kitza