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Thinking About Crowdsourcing Your Next Project? Consider This:

Can crowdsourcing apply to your technology project? Five things to think about: 1. Is the work suitable for “crowdsourcing”? For simple, repetitive tasks – such as translation or steps in a process chain which require humans, like checking content for obscenity – the answer is probably yes. For complex tasks, such as delivering functional program code, the answer is less clear cut. Do you have the necessary design documents and specifications to enable someone with no knowledge of, or contact with, your project to complete and test the code? Are there any licenses for tools or technology required for the crowdforce worker to do the job? Are your design, specification and test processes mature enough to handle discrete work units? 2. Contractual and Intellectual Property issues – suppose you crowdsource “the next big thing” and it becomes a roaring financial success… and then a crowdforce worker pops up and says “you're using my Intellectual Property, either compensate me or cease-and-desist”? As many crowdsource arrangements are based on the idea of simple piecework – the execution of repetitive tasks at minimal cost – their contracts may not be geared to the management of intellectual property issues. If the work is being undertaken on behalf of a customer, what about the contractual terms between your company and your customer? Are there any clauses covering confidentiality or intellectual property which need to be enforced or passed through to your crowdforce subcontractors? If a crowdforce worker delivers code or work to you which infringes a third party's license terms or IPR, are you adequately protected? 3. Product liability, maintenance, support and enhancements – you can't assume that an individual crowdforce member will be available to you in the future. Maybe he or she is only crowdworking to pay the bills in between jobs. Do you have the processes in place to ensure that you can support and maintain the work delivered in service, even if the original author is no longer available to you? 4. Be prepared to duplicate effort – even if the person you select to do the work has a good track record that doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to get good results. You may want to commission a number of different people to do the work, pay them, and then choose the best results to use going forward. This approach can be particularly useful for creative work, such as media content, UI design or presentation, giving you the option to choose between a number of finished units of work rather than reviewing proposals or portfolios. 5. “crowdsourcing” has existed for a long time in the IT world, it just hasn't been called “crowdsourcing”. Open source software provides a wealth of excellent software which has been developed by highly motivated individuals in their spare time – and the best of these products are in turn often available with commercial support at much less cost and risk than both the “big name” vendors and the inherent risk of developing something completely new. Consider evaluating existing, mature open source frameworks which meet your needs and then commissioning the best of the contributors to those projects to work for you. Don't forget that a widely used product or framework will have been tested in a much wider range of environments than is generally possible on a single commercial project, and that the most popular of the open source systems and tools have been elevated to that position by proving time after time that they're efficient and effective at what they do. Leveraging the best that the open source world has to offer can give you the benefits of many individuals talent and creativity, and also mitigates your risks by spreading the likelihood that problems will be found and fixed across a much wider user base.

About Matthew Kabik

Matthew Kabik is the former Editor of Computer Aid's Accelerating IT Success. He worked at Computer Aid, Inc. from 2008 to 2014 in the Harrisburg offices, where he was a copywriter, swordsman, social media consultant, and trainer before moving into editorial.

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