Do not leave crowdsourcing to the “wisdom of the crowd”

I read a good post by Mark Tamis, titled Enterprise 2.0 Boston Bait and Switch, that focused on the failures of the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in terms of their selection process. I would urge you to check it out as both the post and the discussion in the comments are worthwhile.

One point that Mark noted, a point that people often seem angry about, is:

“The voting process turned into a popularity contests, with people actively asking to be shown ‘Twitter Love’ by their followers to get more votes – followers who potentially would not be interested in attending the event because their interests lie elsewhere. This all turned into a real buzz machine, driving a lot of traffic and awareness that this event would take place. While this is all fine and understandable and a good way to build interest for Enterprise 2.0, it was done with the wrong Intent and thus under false pretenses. Trust has been squandered.”

I have to say this at least once so please pull up a chair… Are you comfortable? Good…

Crowdsourcing, any type of voting, will always be a popularity contest. The key is to keep the focus on the popularity of the idea, not the messenger, of course. More importantly, popularity should NEVER be ignored in crowdsourcing unless your idea is to deliver a solution that no one cares to use.

Crowdsourcing should never be left to the “wisdom of the crowd”. Crowdsourcing can only be successfully implemented if it is left to the “wisdom of your customers”.

The Enterprise 2.0 Conference Submission Voting Process was flawed from the beginning, perhaps accidentally or perhaps because of the marketing buzz driven by the way the process was devised. Frankly, I honestly do not care why it was flawed. However, if you want to do better next time, here is some simple advice to consider:

  • Try to leverage crowdsourcing again. If done properly it will make a positive impact on your conference. I give you an A for effort, a D for execution.
  • Make your “rules of the game” clearer. After the selection process you speak of the process as a contest, a lottery, vs. a community vote. If it is a lottery than pull a ticket or ball from some container and call it a day.
    • Your “How it works” language clearly states ”This will be the final stage. Advancing here is based on community votes and the approval of members of the Enterprise 2.0 Conference Advisory Board. Proposals with the most votes will be part of the E2 Boston 2010 Conference.” Since Proposals with the most votes were not selected the rules changed. It is your conference, own it.
  • Do everything exactly as you did this time but add a last community vote, a crowdsourcing initiative, at the very end of the process. For example, if you want to run 30 sessions the Advisory Board should choose 50 possible sessions and then have the registered users crowdsource the “last mile”. Giving your customer ownership of their conference is the only mutually beneficial reason to use crowdsourcing. Will you do it?

What do you think?


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Geordie Adams

John…could not agree more and have seen this kind of disillusionment/disappointment before. Your suggested remedies align to a number of our best practices. Couple of other thoughts:
– you could also flip around your last solution allowing participants to narrow the field and the advisory panel to do the final selection (sharing the criteria that they will use prior to taking in responses).
– the sponsors of the engagement should be clear – in an open source situation like this – to ask authors not to lobby…that will not stop everyone but it will establish the right etiquette, which many people still need to learn and understand (for the authors AND the other participants).

John Moore

Thanks Geordie, great additions. Option #2 is tough as you will always get lobbying in my opinion, so might be harder in large scale crowdsourcing efforts. However, on smaller scale initiatives, like the unconference not long ago, works well.


Andrew Krzmarzick

An example of where crowdsourcing has worked well and did not devolve into a popularity contest is the Better Buy Project. Ideas where shared, voted and commented upon without any lobbying for a particular idea. Participants simply submitted and respected the organic process. Note also the active moderation and gardening by Peter Tuttle to seek clarification – not leaving the community to work on its own, but offering some guidance.

Also, they have now taken one of the top ideas (writing a solicitation on a wiki) – not the #1 by votes, but one of the top 10 – and are implementing it in a measured, deliberate manner. If it works, this is one of the first big success stories of crowdsourcing in government (and we’re proud to say it was incubated right here on GovLoop 😉 !

John Moore

The Better Buy Project has done an excellent job of crowdsourcing. Will have to reach out to Peter Tuttle and gain his insights on how he kept things focused in the moderation cycle as well, would be good for people to hear about.

Thanks Andy.