Click here to close now.

Welcome!

SOA & WOA Authors: Leo Reiter, Elizabeth White, XebiaLabs Blog, Laura Heritage, Lisa Pope

Related Topics: SOA & WOA, Java

SOA & WOA: Article

Crowdsourcing - A Best Practice or a Worst Practice?

How to know if crowdsourcing is for you

For the record, I am neither pro-crowdsourcing nor anti-crowdsourcing. For purposes of this article, I'm going to assume that we're talking about software development; however, crowdsourcing could be just as appropriate for situations as diverse as architecture, graphical design, PowerPoint slides or even developing a great pizza recipe.

The Ethics of Crowdsourcing
There has been some criticism of the crowdsourcing model on ethical grounds - for example, that it is unfair to the participants. For the most part, I'm going to stay out of that controversy. Though, if the rules are made clear and are posted up front, then each party can decide on their own whether to participate. To me, that makes it fair. If someone is cheated, that's a different story, and there are other (legal) remedies for that.

We've all engaged in things like job interviews or pitches to venture capital firms where we knew going into it that we would bear the burden of travel, preparation, etc., and that there were no guarantees whatsoever of results. I don't see how crowdsourcing is materially different. But the purpose of this article is to discuss crowdsourcing as a method of creating software - not to debate the ethical points.

Crowdsourcing: Deja Vu?
Crowdsourcing is in some ways like using a swear word. In some situations, it's appropriate and helpful, and in other situations, it's simply a terrible idea and entirely counter-productive. It's up to the business person to intelligently determine whether a particular issue is crowdsource-appropriate.

This is certainly not unique to crowdsourcing - the same can be said for outsourcing (or offshore outsourcing). In fact there are some similarities between the two, in that some years ago, offshore outsourcing grew in popularity - and briefly seemed to be promoted by many as a solution to every problem out there. I see the same thing happening with crowdsourcing today. I'm highly critical of organizations which promote crowdsourcing as a near-panacea. Apart from Duck Tape, nothing is a near-panacea.

With offshore outsourcing, there were some spectacular successes and even more spectacular disasters. If crowdsourcing truly takes off, we'll see the same pattern happen there too.  In time, rationality mostly prevailed and outsourcing/offshoring software development became "yet another tool" to be leveraged by the savvy business user.

Shortcomings of Crowdsourcing
Crowdsourcing has many of the same shortcomings as outsourcing, and a few more to boot. Some issues I see:

1) For the most part, the really talented architects and developers are busy with lucrative and demanding jobs. So if you think you're going to get someone to create something better than Hadoop without any compensation guarantees, think again. I'm not saying that there aren't some highly skilled people out there. But one needs to be realistic. You can't open something up to crowdsourcing and expect the world to come to you. On the other hand, your particular problem might be perfect for someone out there.

Although "contests", such as those promoted by organizations like TopCoder, can be useful for improving the quality of potential solutions, the quality of the end-solution is mostly determined by the quality of the talent pool and how well the contest is set up and managed. The fact that there is a contest doesn't change anything to any significant degree - it's still crowdsourcing.

And don't forget the overhead of managing and "judging" any such competition.  It's not as easy as determining the winner in a 100 metre dash.  As always, a badly defined and poorly run competition is almost certainly a failed one.

2) It's human nature that results and motivation go hand in hand.  In the working world, motivation takes many forms, and every person is different.  In general, people are motivated by compensation (monetary and non-monetary), respect and visibility from others, a sense of being part of a team, and the satisfaction of a job well done.

Because the nature of the relationship between a crowdsourcing participant and the business is so very ephemeral, the typical person simply doesn't have the underlying motivation.

3) The mathematics of complex systems are against outsourcing in general.  By this I mean that the effort to successfully manage such a project increases geometrically relative to the complexity of the problem trying to be solved.  Specifically, the effort to fully document the requirements of a project, to quality assure the results, to ensure that the proposed solution not only meets the requirements as set forth,  and provide a sound and extensible architectural base for the future increases MUCH faster than the actual effort required to solve the problem.

If you get involved in trying to manage multiple disconnected or semi-connected parties with varying competing or complementary solutions, that makes things even worse.

4) Who's going to maintain all that code?  Years ago, I had to write a utility that extracted data and metadata from a proprietary column-store database and stuff it into Oracle 10.  A year after I wrote the utility, I needed to go back and modify it.  It was a difficult task.  It's difficult to maintain your own code.  Maintaining someone else's code is far more difficult.  Although turnover is common in any organization, supportability of in-house developed code is significantly easier than externally acquired code.

5) Collaboration with internal team members is an important part of most development efforts, and this is something that is difficult with a crowdsourcing solution.

Advantages of Crowdsourcing
All that said, crowdsourcing has some real benefits.  True advantages.  For some projects (or project components), it's a great idea.

1) It can be highly cost effective when used properly (i.e. managed properly and employed for an appropriate class of problem).

2) The wide range of potential problem-solvers out there mean that some very interesting and innovative solutions can pop up.

3) External people aren't constrained by the mental "boxes" and preconceived notions that internal people create for themselves.

4) When used properly, the downside of crowdsourcing can be minimized.

Is Crowdsourcing Right for Your Project? How Do You Minimize Risk?
Anyhow, all this comes down to the old maxim: use the right tool for the job.  Some projects just aren't cut out for crowdsourcing, and some are.

That being said, you can't fix stupid, and some people insist on using a hammer where a screwdriver is the correct implement.  So if you cut off your finger using a bandsaw while trying to open up a can of tuna fish, don't go blaming the bandsaw.

If you are considering crowdsourcing, consider your answers to the following questions.  They may help you determine if your project is truly crowdsource-appropriate, and help you minimize the risk and/or impact of failure.

a) How much effort is required to appropriately define the problem as well as requirements for the solution...up front.

b) How much effort will it take to manage the crowdsourcing process?

c) How much calendar time will be expended if the crowdsourcing process fails to yield a useful solution?

d) What is the impact on the business if crowdsourcing doesn't work for this particular problem?

e) What is the impact on the business of using internal people instead of crowdsourcing? What is the "opportunity cost" of using internal people?

f) Can you define "pull the plug" points for a crowdsourcing project?  For example, how many parties express interest in working on your problem?

g) Can you establish some preliminary indicators that allow you to predict success likelihood for the final solution?

h) How do you decide between "pull the plug" vs. "go back and try to remedy the situation" if the leading indicators aren't looking good?

i) Can you define "success"? Do you have criteria in place for judging and testing solutions?

Crowdsourcing: Post Script
For an excellent followup on this article, please read "Maximizing CrowdSource Success" - perspectives from CrowdSourcing pioneer and TopCoder founder Jack Hughes.  Jack gives additional insight into many of the "must ask" questions to help readers determine whether crowdsourcing is appropriate for them - and, if so, how to maximize chance of success.

More Stories By Hollis Tibbetts

Hollis Tibbetts, or @SoftwareHollis as his 50,000+ followers know him on Twitter, is listed on various “top 100 expert lists” for a variety of topics – ranging from Cloud to Technology Marketing, Hollis is by day Evangelist & Software Technology Director at Dell Software. By night and weekends he is a commentator, speaker and all-round communicator about Software, Data and Cloud in their myriad aspects. You can also reach Hollis on LinkedIn – linkedin.com/in/SoftwareHollis. His latest online venture is OnlineBackupNews - a free reference site to help organizations protect their data, applications and systems from threats. Every year IT Downtime Costs $26.5 Billion In Lost Revenue. Even with such high costs, 56% of enterprises in North America and 30% in Europe don’t have a good disaster recovery plan. Online Backup News aims to make sure you all have the news and tips needed to keep your IT Costs down and your information safe by providing best practices, technology insights, strategies, real-world examples and various tips and techniques from a variety of industry experts.

Hollis is a regularly featured blogger at ebizQ, a venue focused on enterprise technologies, with over 100,000 subscribers. He is also an author on Social Media Today "The World's Best Thinkers on Social Media", and maintains a blog focused on protecting data: Online Backup News.
He tweets actively as @SoftwareHollis

Additional information is available at HollisTibbetts.com

All opinions expressed in the author's articles are his own personal opinions vs. those of his employer.

@ThingsExpo Stories
Cloud data governance was previously an avoided function when cloud deployments were relatively small. With the rapid adoption in public cloud – both rogue and sanctioned, it’s not uncommon to find regulated data dumped into public cloud and unprotected. This is why enterprises and cloud providers alike need to embrace a cloud data governance function and map policies, processes and technology controls accordingly. In her session at 15th Cloud Expo, Evelyn de Souza, Data Privacy and Compliance Strategy Leader at Cisco Systems, will focus on how to set up a cloud data governance program and s...
Roberto Medrano, Executive Vice President at SOA Software, had reached 30,000 page views on his home page - http://RobertoMedrano.SYS-CON.com/ - on the SYS-CON family of online magazines, which includes Cloud Computing Journal, Internet of Things Journal, Big Data Journal, and SOA World Magazine. He is a recognized executive in the information technology fields of SOA, internet security, governance, and compliance. He has extensive experience with both start-ups and large companies, having been involved at the beginning of four IT industries: EDA, Open Systems, Computer Security and now SOA.
The industrial software market has treated data with the mentality of “collect everything now, worry about how to use it later.” We now find ourselves buried in data, with the pervasive connectivity of the (Industrial) Internet of Things only piling on more numbers. There’s too much data and not enough information. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Bob Gates, Global Marketing Director, GE’s Intelligent Platforms business, to discuss how realizing the power of IoT, software developers are now focused on understanding how industrial data can create intelligence for industrial operations. Imagine ...
We certainly live in interesting technological times. And no more interesting than the current competing IoT standards for connectivity. Various standards bodies, approaches, and ecosystems are vying for mindshare and positioning for a competitive edge. It is clear that when the dust settles, we will have new protocols, evolved protocols, that will change the way we interact with devices and infrastructure. We will also have evolved web protocols, like HTTP/2, that will be changing the very core of our infrastructures. At the same time, we have old approaches made new again like micro-services...
Every innovation or invention was originally a daydream. You like to imagine a “what-if” scenario. And with all the attention being paid to the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) you don’t have to stretch the imagination too much to see how this may impact commercial and homeowners insurance. We’re beyond the point of accepting this as a leap of faith. The groundwork is laid. Now it’s just a matter of time. We can thank the inventors of smart thermostats for developing a practical business application that everyone can relate to. Gone are the salad days of smart home apps, the early chalkb...
Operational Hadoop and the Lambda Architecture for Streaming Data Apache Hadoop is emerging as a distributed platform for handling large and fast incoming streams of data. Predictive maintenance, supply chain optimization, and Internet-of-Things analysis are examples where Hadoop provides the scalable storage, processing, and analytics platform to gain meaningful insights from granular data that is typically only valuable from a large-scale, aggregate view. One architecture useful for capturing and analyzing streaming data is the Lambda Architecture, representing a model of how to analyze rea...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Vitria Technology, Inc. will exhibit at SYS-CON’s @ThingsExpo, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Vitria will showcase the company’s new IoT Analytics Platform through live demonstrations at booth #330. Vitria’s IoT Analytics Platform, fully integrated and powered by an operational intelligence engine, enables customers to rapidly build and operationalize advanced analytics to deliver timely business outcomes for use cases across the industrial, enterprise, and consumer segments.
Today’s enterprise is being driven by disruptive competitive and human capital requirements to provide enterprise application access through not only desktops, but also mobile devices. To retrofit existing programs across all these devices using traditional programming methods is very costly and time consuming – often prohibitively so. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO, President, and Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., discussed how you can create applications that run on all mobile devices as well as laptops and desktops using a visual drag-and-drop application – and eForms-buildi...
Containers and microservices have become topics of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities. Accordingly, attendees at the upcoming 16th Cloud Expo at the Javits Center in New York June 9-11 will find fresh new content in a new track called PaaS | Containers & Microservices Containers are not being considered for the first time by the cloud community, but a current era of re-consideration has pushed them to the top of the cloud agenda. With the launch of Docker's initial release in March of 2013, interest was revved up several notches. Then late last...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Dyn, the worldwide leader in Internet Performance, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Dyn is a cloud-based Internet Performance company. Dyn helps companies monitor, control, and optimize online infrastructure for an exceptional end-user experience. Through a world-class network and unrivaled, objective intelligence into Internet conditions, Dyn ensures traffic gets delivered faster, safer, and more reliably than ever.
In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect at GE, and Ibrahim Gokcen, who leads GE's advanced IoT analytics, focused on the Internet of Things / Industrial Internet and how to make it operational for business end-users. Learn about the challenges posed by machine and sensor data and how to marry it with enterprise data. They also discussed the tips and tricks to provide the Industrial Internet as an end-user consumable service using Big Data Analytics and Industrial Cloud.
The explosion of connected devices / sensors is creating an ever-expanding set of new and valuable data. In parallel the emerging capability of Big Data technologies to store, access, analyze, and react to this data is producing changes in business models under the umbrella of the Internet of Things (IoT). In particular within the Insurance industry, IoT appears positioned to enable deep changes by altering relationships between insurers, distributors, and the insured. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Michael Sick, a Senior Manager and Big Data Architect within Ernst and Young's Financial Servi...
Performance is the intersection of power, agility, control, and choice. If you value performance, and more specifically consistent performance, you need to look beyond simple virtualized compute. Many factors need to be considered to create a truly performant environment. In his General Session at 15th Cloud Expo, Harold Hannon, Sr. Software Architect at SoftLayer, discussed how to take advantage of a multitude of compute options and platform features to make cloud the cornerstone of your online presence.
Even as cloud and managed services grow increasingly central to business strategy and performance, challenges remain. The biggest sticking point for companies seeking to capitalize on the cloud is data security. Keeping data safe is an issue in any computing environment, and it has been a focus since the earliest days of the cloud revolution. Understandably so: a lot can go wrong when you allow valuable information to live outside the firewall. Recent revelations about government snooping, along with a steady stream of well-publicized data breaches, only add to the uncertainty
The explosion of connected devices / sensors is creating an ever-expanding set of new and valuable data. In parallel the emerging capability of Big Data technologies to store, access, analyze, and react to this data is producing changes in business models under the umbrella of the Internet of Things (IoT). In particular within the Insurance industry, IoT appears positioned to enable deep changes by altering relationships between insurers, distributors, and the insured. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Michael Sick, a Senior Manager and Big Data Architect within Ernst and Young's Financial Servi...
PubNub on Monday has announced that it is partnering with IBM to bring its sophisticated real-time data streaming and messaging capabilities to Bluemix, IBM’s cloud development platform. “Today’s app and connected devices require an always-on connection, but building a secure, scalable solution from the ground up is time consuming, resource intensive, and error-prone,” said Todd Greene, CEO of PubNub. “PubNub enables web, mobile and IoT developers building apps on IBM Bluemix to quickly add scalable realtime functionality with minimal effort and cost.”
Docker is an excellent platform for organizations interested in running microservices. It offers portability and consistency between development and production environments, quick provisioning times, and a simple way to isolate services. In his session at DevOps Summit at 16th Cloud Expo, Shannon Williams, co-founder of Rancher Labs, will walk through these and other benefits of using Docker to run microservices, and provide an overview of RancherOS, a minimalist distribution of Linux designed expressly to run Docker. He will also discuss Rancher, an orchestration and service discovery platf...
Sensor-enabled things are becoming more commonplace, precursors to a larger and more complex framework that most consider the ultimate promise of the IoT: things connecting, interacting, sharing, storing, and over time perhaps learning and predicting based on habits, behaviors, location, preferences, purchases and more. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Tom Wesselman, Director of Communications Ecosystem Architecture at Plantronics, will examine the still nascent IoT as it is coalescing, including what it is today, what it might ultimately be, the role of wearable tech, and technology gaps stil...
With several hundred implementations of IoT-enabled solutions in the past 12 months alone, this session will focus on experience over the art of the possible. Many can only imagine the most advanced telematics platform ever deployed, supporting millions of customers, producing tens of thousands events or GBs per trip, and hundreds of TBs per month. With the ability to support a billion sensor events per second, over 30PB of warm data for analytics, and hundreds of PBs for an data analytics archive, in his session at @ThingsExpo, Jim Kaskade, Vice President and General Manager, Big Data & Ana...
CommVault has announced that top industry technology visionaries have joined its leadership team. The addition of leaders from companies such as Oracle, SAP, Microsoft, Cisco, PwC and EMC signals the continuation of CommVault Next, the company's business transformation for sales, go-to-market strategies, pricing and packaging and technology innovation. The company also announced that it had realigned its structure to create business units to more directly match how customers evaluate, deploy, operate, and purchase technology.