Is Crowdsourcing Evil?
Crowdsourcing, by its very name, encourages a comparison to outsourcing. But when Wired first published the article that entered the term into the popular lexicon, it was far from clear whether the phenomenon would realize its disruptive potential. Three years later, it seems increasingly obvious that it will. Aided by a new generation of sophisticated startups, ever cheaper creative tools and -- most of all -- a recession that is forcing cost-saving measures on businesses, crowdsourcing is rapidly migrating from the fringe to the mainstream.
Witness the upheaval afflicting the design industry, sparked by the rise of so-called "spec design" sites like crowdSpring and 99designs. Customers post creative briefs directly to the community, which then competes to create a design that best fits the clients' needs. A typical "assignment" will draw dozens of submissions. The winner receives a nominal fee (as little as $200), and the client receives a logo or website design at a fraction of what a professional agency might charge. The losers get zip, which goes a long way to explaining why working on spec ("on speculation," or without guarantee of payment) has always been considered the work of last resort for writers, designers and other creative professionals.
So one might expect crowdSpring and 99designs to wither away like so many other seemingly ill-conceived Web 2.0 startups. Instead, they seem to be flourishing. 99designs says it has paid out over $4 million to its community of 30,000 artists, and crowdSpring expects to be profitable by next year. The success of crowdsourced design has sparked a vibrant, highly emotional debate within the design industry. (The brouhaha will go live at SXSW next week, where I will moderate a panel on the subject of spec work in design.)*
Alarmed by the popularity of the spec model, a group of designers formed a protest group called No!Spec to persuade their colleagues (and prospective clients) to just say no to design contests. Their effort has not been in vain. The trade group AIGA, with around 22,000 designer members, has gone so far as to stake out an official position on spec work: "AIGA strongly discourages the practice of requesting that design work be produced and submitted on a speculative basis in order to be considered for acceptance on a project."
The controversy shifted into high gear last month after Forbes published an airy, one-sided look at crowdSpring. In more than 100 comments to the article one could read persuasive, articulate variations on a single theme: "Fuck you and crowdSpring too." Several prominent design blogs posted their own jeremiads lambasting crowdSpring. "Spec work has become a major force in devaluing the perception of graphic design in the business world," writes eyeCinq. And: "The folks that run these outfits have managed to figure out a way to get thousands of people -- some skilled enough to earn a decent living -- to work for them gratis. It's an amazing sleight-of-hand," writes The Logo Factor.
It would seem that the squabble has ignited the design community against the barbarians at their gate. And that would seem to bode ill for the future health of the spec sites, right?
Don't count on it. A similar debate was taking place in the stock photography world when we published "The Rise of Crowdsourcing" in that bygone era of June 2006. The fact this debate has been largely settled -- in favor of the barbarians -- speaks volumes about where graphic design, and, for better or worse, most other creative fields, are heading.
I made this explicit comparison on my blog last August. The demand for low-end design has ballooned in recent years alongside the profusion of start-ups and small businesses. Conveniently enough, so has the supply of what we might call "low-end designers" (amateurs, recent grads and the like). According to Forbes there are 80,000 freelance designers in the United States alone. Most of these are, proverbially speaking, waiting tables. When someone matches demand and supply, well that's kismet!
IStockphoto and other so-called "microstock" agencies capitalized on a similar disparity. The result was the total disruption of the $2 billion stock photo industry. IStock is now the third-largest purveyor of stock images, and 96 percent of its "workforce" is comprised of amateurs. In my book on crowdsourcing, I posed the question of whether stock photography was an isolated case, or just the canary in the coal mine. It was an open question as of April 2008 when I submitted the final changes to my galleys. Now it ain't. The canary is prone, lying motionless on a bed of its own droppings. It looks like it's time to find another mine.
* Two of my co-panelists have written their own distinctive takes on the debate. Please check out Threadless.com's Jeffrey Kalmikoff on the spec debate, as well as Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang's advice to designers. by Jeff P. Howe
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Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Is Crowdsourcing Evil?
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Deputy: 'It's supposed to be me getting shot, not my family'
"Get home now."
Geneva County Sheriff's Deputy Josh Myers quickly hung up the phone when he got that message on Tuesday and started home to Samson, having no idea what had happened to his wife or his three children.
Then, another urgent message:
"We got notified on the radio that a trooper was chasing a suspect that had fired shots," Myers told reporters on Wednesday.
Instead of heading home, the deputy drove to Reliable Metal Products plant in the nearby town of Geneva, where the gunman had shot and killed himself after a bloody rampage in southern Alabama in which he killed 10 people -- including relatives and apparent strangers.
Myers had no idea that the man, whose body he saw at the plant, had shot and killed his wife and 1½-year-old daughter, Corinne Gracy, and shot and wounded his 3-month-old baby girl, Ella Kay.
A family friend found the couple's 4-year-old son hiding in the Myers' home after the shooting.
"He was present when it happened," Myers said. "He knows something's wrong. He asked where mama was, and I had to tell him she was with Jesus. This is going to take a long time to work through it."
Andrea Myers, 31, was holding Ella Kay and talking with her neighbors on their porch across the street when the gunman -- identified by police as Michael McLendon -- opened fire. The neighbors turned out to be McLendon's relatives, although it was unclear why he targeted them.
He said one of his neighbors saved his wounded daughter's life.
"She ran up on the porch and got my baby girl and took her to safety," Myers said.
The 10 people McLendon killed before he shot himself to death included his mother, grandmother, other relatives and strangers, police said.
Ella Kay, who was shot in the leg, will have surgery on Wednesday at a hospital in Pensacola, Florida, to remove the bullet or shrapnel that is near her femoral artery, Myers said.
A day after Tuesday's shootings, Myers stood in front of his home, across the street from the house where his family was killed, and spoke to reporters.
"It's supposed to be me out here getting shot, not my family," Myers said, speaking barely above a whisper. "I'd step out on the street any day and take a bullet for anybody in this community. Anybody. I take that risk when I go to work every day, I take that risk when I'm off.
"Nobody's family should have this done," he added, holding pictures of his wife and daughters.
Bombed by The Black Rider at 9:22 AM
Teenage gunman attacks German school, kills 15
Wednesday, Mar 11, 2009 1:34PM UTC
By Hendrik Sackmann
WINNENDEN, Germany (Reuters) - A 17-year old gunman went on a shooting spree at his former school in southwest Germany on Wednesday, killing up to 15 people before dying himself in a shootout with police, authorities said.
The former student, dressed in black combat gear, entered the school in Winnenden, a town of 27,000 near Stuttgart, at around 9.30 a.m. (3:30 a.m. EDT) and began firing.
He killed nine students and three teachers at the school, as well as one person at a nearby clinic, before fleeing with a hostage in a car. He was killed in a shootout with police.
Two additional passers-by were killed and two policemen seriously injured in the shootout, bringing the total death toll to 16 including the gunman.
It was not clear whether the gunman had been shot by police or taken his own life, Rainer Koeller, a police spokesman in nearby Waiblingen said.
"I've been president of police in Baden-Wuerttemberg for 19 years now, and I can't remember a deed as terrible as this," said Erwin Hetger, police chief in the southwestern state.
A German government spokesman in Berlin said he was "deeply shocked" by the incident. Chancellor Angela Merkel would make a statement at 4 p.m. (10:00 a.m. EDT).
The shooting is the latest to shock Germany in recent years. In 2006, a masked man armed with rifles and explosives attacked a school in the western town of Emsdetten, wounding at least 11 people before committing suicide.
In April 2002, Germany suffered its worst school shooting when a gunman killed 17 people, including himself, at a high school in the eastern city of Erfurt.
Police said the gunman had entered two classrooms at the Albertville-Realschule in Winnenden and probably opened fired at pupils indiscrminately.
The secondary school is for students aged around 10 to 16. It was evacuated and rescue workers and fire fighters were at the scene. Helicopters circled above the historic market town, which had been largely sealed off.
Television pictures showed dozens of heavily-armed black-clad SWAT teams entering the two-storey white school building.
"Police are coming through the whole time. They're obviously looking all over town for him," said Roberto Seifert, who works at a company neighboring the school. "We've never had anything like this," he told Reuters.
German media reports said the suspect had used weapons his parents legally held at home, although police could not confirm this.
Germany has strict weapons laws, with gunholders having to fulfill certain criteria on age and weapons expertise to obtain a license for firearms.
A market town whose origins stretch back to the 12th century, Winnenden is the hometown of German firm Kaercher, a maker of high pressure cleaners.
(Reporting by Holger Hansen, Dave Graham, Noah Barkin; Editing by Richard Balmforth)
(Writing by Kerstin Gehmlich; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
Bombed by The Black Rider at 6:58 AM
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