A Skeptic’s Journey into Crowdsourcing

February 18, 2014 John Gorup

I needed to pull together a “Corporate Overview” handout for a big sales meeting in less than a week.  We had one, but in all honesty, it was kind of lame.  I wanted something that truly reflected Appirio – as an exciting place to work with and work for.  There were going to be a lot of other vendors at this meeting, and I really needed something people could look at and understand who we are.  (Below: what we had for a Corporate Overview)

My first problem was me.  I am a decent copy writer, but I have no talent for making things look cool or interesting. The second problem was that the designer Appirio has on staff was slammed with work, and would not be able to help me out in such a short timeline.  Lacking talent and time, I tried Topcoder.

Crowdsourcing is a hot topic these days.  And in all honesty, I have always been a bit skeptical of the whole thing. Sure I have heard the stories about how a crowd accurately guessed the weight of an ox, and so forth.  But my problem was not a dead ox. I had a real time crunch and a real deliverable that needed to be done. After being convinced by Jared Ford who joined Appirio from Topcoder, I decided to give it a shot, and began my crowdsourcing journey.

1) Establishing What I Want.

First, I worked out the basic needs and ground rules of what I was looking for.  I included what colors we needed, what text was essential, and described the general idea of what was needed (see below).

2) Topcoder Challenge Created and Launched.

After I established the basics of what was needed, a Topcoder Challenge was created.  As a part of this process, a “Co-Pilot” was selected to make sure the challenge was done properly and ushered in satisfactory results.  The Co-Pilot used my documentation to set up the the challenge, and created the timeline and rewards for the project.  I was asked to make sure the challenge reflected what I wanted, and once I gave the go-ahead the challenge was launched.  Within hours there were 15 participants registered for the challenge.


3) Checkpoint Review

48-hours after the challenge was launched we had a checkpoint, at which time 5 entries won $50 for their efforts.  I was blown away by what was submitted – the creativity and design expertise from all the entrants were amazing.  Still, there was work and refining to be done, so I gave feedback on all the designs. I pointed out what I liked about their design, anything I thought that needed improvement, and corrected anything that was wrong (one mistake was a typographical error I made in the initial requirements).  All feedback was visible to all entrants, so careful designers could learn from my feedback of other entries as well as their own.

4) Completion

Sunday morning came (the design was due Monday), and I reviewed all the final submissions.  The contest ended with first and second place winners that were beautiful and exciting, and they won $600 and $250, respectively. I had the rights to use those designs.

Below: the winning submission by our community member ujazz:

And below: our second-place winning submission by amelblitz:


It was a small step, but it’s hard not to conclude that the hype around Crowdsourcing is warranted.  I have been using outsourcing for a long time, but the difference here was clear. I had simply thrown a problem out to a community, and members of that community self-selected themselves to solve it (you can read more about the differences between crowdsourcing and outsourcing here).  At the end, I got more than I needed, on time, and the results that were cooler than I could have imagined.


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