Community Outsourcing

(Published in The Express Tribune, July 26, 2010)

KARACHI: Community outsourcing or crowdsourcing is an ingenious idea that has revolutionised platforms such as Google Maps and Wikipedia. It is also successfully leveraged by companies like NetFlix, Pepsi and most recently Fifa.

When Pepsi launched a design competition for its cans in 2007, it got thousands of contributions from aspiring artists and creative professionals across the world while at the same time got people excited about the idea of their creative art landing on millions of cans. Coca Cola and Fifa launched the “Best Goal Celebrations” video competition through YouTube to interest thousands of video makers and allowing them to upload their videos.

With the Internet, the idea of “crowdsourcing” has emerged as a very distinct strategy as there are millions of contributors just a click away and collaboration is far easier. Wikipedia is a testament to this fact as the idea could never have been possible without the right tools.

Google Maps provides an almost complete list of streets and landmarks for Pakistan’s major cities whereas official maps are often outdated or incomplete. What’s more remarkable is that these maps are actually built by thousands of contributors who keep correcting and adding information on a daily basis. Similarly, Facebook has also relied on the community to translate its website into many different languages.

A big problem with crowdsourcing is error-checking since anyone an can intentionally or unwittingly mislabel a street in Google Maps or a Wikipedia fact. This is ingeniously handled by relying on the crowds to find and correct errors; through thousands of contributors and millions of moderators. YouTube, for example, relies on its viewers for flagging offensive comments left on videos.

More innovative startups have built their entire business around crowdsourcing. Companies looking for logo designs can start their own competition at and get dozens of logo ideas for a fraction of the cost.

The guardian newspaper recently outsourced its news desk research by putting up over 700,000 expense claims by politicians and letting the public do the work of finding fraudulent claims. The idea worked remarkably well and found over 20,000 questionable claims.

Crowdsourcing works because the idea that millions of people making minuscule contributions can make a huge difference is far more prominent than it has ever been. Work that would otherwise require years can be completed in days.