For crowdsourcing purists, who sleep with copies of The Wisdom of Crowds under their pillows, the rise of the 'contest' model of crowdsourcing has been like watching an American remake of your favorite TV show: the characters may have the same names, but what made it special has gone (and where did that wisecracking robot-butler come from?).
As its name suggests, the contest model is more about competition than collaboration. While some competitions allow contestants to build on what others have done, the whole point is to reward only the winning entry. This means everyone else’s work usually goes to waste.
One crowd enters, one man leaves
In addition to being wasteful, the contest model fails to truly tap the potential of the crowd and the unique things it can achieve. Which brings me to ChallengePost, the mother of all crowd contests.
ChallengePost is the brainchild of Brandon Kessler, who came up with the idea back in 2008 after stumbling across an online contest to develop software that could run Windows XP on an Intel Mac. Kessler didn't win that contest, but he was inspired to create a platform where similar projects could be posted.
Four years later, after securing nearly $5m in funding, the site has an impressive client list, including both Obamas (ChallengePost's software powers both Barack's challenge.gov site and Michelle's anti-obesity drive) and Samsung. The Korean manufacturing giant wants the crowd to develop apps that will make their Apple Newton-style Galaxy Note seem new and exciting (the winners will have earned every cent of the $200,000 prize).
But what sets ChallengePost apart is the potential for collaboration within each contest. While most crowdsourced contests only supply a brief (and possibly some feedback), ChallengePost's integrated discussion boards let individuals team-up to solve problems, enabling the generation of real crowd-power.
We need to talk
At the moment, this area of the platform is underdeveloped, with individuals still forming the majority of entrants. What's more, the platform doesn't offer a simple mechanism for sharing credit or creating a group. This has made some users unwilling to team up in case they don't get paid for their winning ideas.
These problems can be overcome relatively easily. Once they are, ChallengePost should be able to encourage more collective reasoning, and start to really transcend the contest model. This will help it deliver even better solutions to its clients.
Also encouraging is ChallengePost's focus on creating a unified platform for projects. As we've discovered at my company, creating a platform that can be used for all sorts of different things lets you fine-tune the mechanism and build on each experience.
So maybe, just maybe, there is some hope for competitive crowdsourcing. If ChallengePost can harness the power of the crowd by encouraging more collaboration, and allow crowds to compete with each other, they could transform the entire contest crowdsourcing model and make it worthy of the name.
What do you think about the current state of the contest model on crowdsourcing platforms? Is there a bigger futture for more collaboration? Let us know in the comments.