Captivate the crowd

Collaborating with others through crowdsourcing can put previously unachievable goals within reach.

SEEKING the opinion of friends through Facebook. A competition ­promising a prize for the best innovation. Updating new words to the English dictionary. Activities such as these have a common theme: They involve crowdsourcing.

This catchphrase made its first public appearance in 2006 when Jeff Howe, a ­contributing editor at Wired magazine, ­introduced it in an article he wrote entitled The Rise of Crowdsourcing, but it’s really ­something that most of us have been doing all along: Getting help from others to solve a problem or meet a need.

“Working with crowds isn’t a new thing,” says Carl Esposti, chief executive officer and founder of website and crowdsourcing business solutions provider, Massolution.

“But what we’re talking about now is the ability to take things we do naturally as humans and organising it into productive capacity.”

“There’s three main things you can do with crowdsourcing: Engage the crowd for its time to produce things or perform work, solve problems, or get their help to combine assets. One of those assets is capital, and that is what we call crowdfunding,” he adds.

Thanks to technological advances, ­crowdsourcing as a concept has evolved ­tremendously over time. Today, it offers much greater opportunities to us than it had before.

Fuelled by the power of the Internet and ongoing globalisation trends, crowdsourcing can be a significant game changer, altering the destinies of not just individuals or ­organisations, but even the nation.

Brighter future for B40s

Everybody could always do with a little extra cash, but this is ­especially important for the ­bottom 40% of Malaysian households that earn RM2,300 or less each month. Also known as the B40s, ­families under this category often struggle to make ends meet each month.

But that need not be the case anymore as the “Microsourcing to generate income for the B40” project hopes to change their fate.

“Our interest started initially by wanting to help assist B40s in ­generating additional income. The other objective we had was to tap the latent skills and talents among Malaysians to increase their productivity levels,” explains Datuk Badlisham Ghazali, chief executive officer at Multimedia Development Corporation Sdn Bhd (MDeC).

Basically, the project aims to match B40 workers with suitable micro tasks (for ­example, conducting surveys or performing data entry) so that they supplement their household income. The tasks themselves do not necessarily involve the use of technology, but the allocation of these tasks are done through crowdsourcing.

The project is part of the Digital Malaysia programme, which aims to develop the nation into a digital economy by 2020. It is also endorsed by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development. Several private job portals have teamed up with the government for this initiative.

“It’s important to recognise not only where the supply (of labour) is, but to ensure that we provide the right skills and training to the B40s to undertake these micro tasks,” says Badlisham.

Around 1,000 task workers have been trained since the program commenced in the fourth quarter of last year.

“The other thing is that we want to make sure we understand the governance of work and how the payment is done. It’s important that people have trust in the system,” he said.

So far, about 300 task workers have taken up paid work within the education, human resource and retail sectors, but Badlisham says it will not only be confined to those areas.

By 2020, the programme hopes to touch 340,000 task workers and to generate RM2.2bil in gross national income, with each B40 worker earning an average of an ­additional RM600 per month.

“The crowdsourcing industry is at its infant stages in Malaysia. It’s still quite a new word for local businesses,” says Nordarzy Razak Norhalim, senior manager for programme management at MDeC. “We’re also trying to collaborate with international platforms so we can expose the B40s to opportunities ­outside Malaysia if they are competent enough.”

Wider possibilities

Along the way, the project has stirred up interest for the idea to be expanded further to benefit the wider Malaysian community.

“A lot of enterprises also require ­specialists to complete a technical project,” Badlisham says. “Companies can become more ­productive and efficient by utilising crowdsourcing.”

“The opportunity of crowdsourcing in terms of creating employment and increasing the value of labour is really immense. If Malaysia invests in building its digital workforce, previous barriers that ­prevented it from obtaining work from other countries will disappear,” says Esposti.

Besides that, he says that crowdsourcing will greatly benefit small and medium ­businesses (SMBs). SMB owners can operate using a virtual labour force whereby workers can be sourced from different parts of the globe, leading to cost efficiencies and better quality of work.

“All of a sudden, crowdsourced labour allows you to compete with bigger ­companies,” Esposti adds.

Something for everyone

In fact, as an individual, you too can stand to benefit from the use of crowdsourcing ­platforms. No matter what your ambitions may be, they could very likely become a ­reality if you can successfully capture the interest of the crowd.

“You can start to look for further work opportunities where you can get paid for things you’re good at,” says Ross Dawson, chairman of ­network ­economy experts, Advanced Human Technologies.

“You could also see if there are ways to contribute to something out there. Try it and see what works.”

Alternatively, you could even look for ­others to help you accomplish a dream project such as creating a short film or ­performing a charitable deed.

Although unpaid contributions tend to get better crowd responses, a paid crowdsourced project can still do as well if the ­crowdsourcing platform used has been well designed.

“It’s about how you design it to get people to want to contribute. People should enjoy the process, then it’d be easier to get them involved,” says Dawson.

“There should be a sense of community, and people’s schedules should be respected. You should give as much flexibility as ­possible because that’s valuable to people.”

Besides that, Esposti says individuals from the crowd should not to be treated as ­anonymous sources and recognition should be properly given.

Since crowdsourcing often takes place ­within a virtual environment, he also says, “You have to learn new ways of ­communicating. Think about how to clearly describe the work and to provide good ­instructions and feedback. You have to apply the same governance and disciplines as you would when normally ­managing a (physically present) team.”

As for security issues, Esposti recommends breaking down the process and desegregating tasks so that individual members of the crowd do not hold too much sensitive data that can be potentially misused.

Last but not least, he says, “You have to invest (enough resources into crowdsourcing) in order to get the best results. It requires you to learn about how to best optimise it over time.”

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