Is Crowdsourcing the New Outsourcing?

Looking for outside talent to do task-based projects is gaining in popularity

7 June 2012

Outsourcing has long been used by tech companies. But there’s another  employment practice picking up steam that you should be aware of: crowdsourcing. It involves a company finding temporary workers—usually through online communities or contests—to handle task-based projects or contribute ideas for new products and services. The practice has been around for some time, but more and more companies are using it now, especially during these tough economic times. For a tech professional, is crowdsourcing an opportunity or a threat? A recent article on the IEEE Computer Society’s website tackled that question.

The answer isn’t so simple. On the one hand you could argue it’s good for those looking for jobs—albeit temporary ones—because it presents many more opportunities. “Computing and software professionals can often benefit from the crowdsourcing trend because their skills are often well-suited to independent projects that can be performed remotely,” writes Peggy Albright.

To find their crowdsourced workers, some companies hold contests to help them come up with a new product or service, while others use online communities of tech professionals. “A company usually hires a vendor that has access to a network of skilled professionals,” Albright writes. “The vendor is then responsible for recruiting people who can help with the work.” Some workers are hired for individual projects, while others work with a group of experts on a regular basis. It’s the latter part that bothers me. If they’re using the same workers regularly, why not just hire them as full-time employees?  With the high rates of unemployment around the world, it shouldn’t be too hard to find qualified workers.

I think it must be disappointing if you’re looking for full-time work and all you can find are these temporary jobs. A recent study by crowdsourcing.org, a site that tracks the industry, shows that crowdsourced workers are on the rise. The number of such workers has grown by more than 100 percent each year since 2009.

Another potential concern: the company’s existing staff aren’t the ones getting that work. It brings up a concern about one’s job security. If I found out tasks that I could have taken care of were being assigned to a freelancer, I’d start wondering how in-demand I really was. Also, it deprives me of possibly earning extra money from overtime. How long would it be before my employer decided it could crowdsource all my work? Certainly one employee can only work so much, so maybe companies are using this practice when their employees’ plates are just too full. But they might also be depriving their employees of much needed extra income.

Whether or not this is good or bad for employees, one thing seems certain: the companies think it’s good for them. First, there’s the obvious reason that they don’t have to add full-time staff and pay salary and benefits. And I’m sure they also see crowdsourcing as a way to gather a greater variety of ideas and skills because they’re reaching out to a wider audience.

Does your company use crowdsourcing, or have you ever been a crowdsourced worker? Do you think this practice is a threat or opportunity for tech professionals?

Learn More