Crowdsourcing Expertise - Event Summary

The Trends in Crowdsourcing Expertise unconference, organized by, the insight network where companies and professionals meet to tackle challenging business issues, with speakers from Harvard, MIT and industry, was held at Babson College on 12 June 2014.

The X Prize - beyond money

Harvard Business School adjunct professor Alan MacCormack discussed the X Prize as an example of inspiring competition through crowdsourcing and pointed out that money cannot be the sole motivation given the time and energy the participants put into it. He also showed data indicating that through the law of large numbers, the end result of a crowdsourced product can be excellent because of the variance of participant input and the ability to discard unpromising approaches, despite not having only the previously identified "top achievers" compete. In the X Prize, student teams do surprisingly well against brand name automotive engineers.

From Crowd to Swarm

MIT’s Peter Gloor emphasized the value of collaborative innovation networks that become similar to bee swarms in their ability to work together. In contrast, crowds (such as football hooligans) are essentially less coordinated and effective, considering their size. Iin fact, Gloor finds responsiveness a key feature of successful collaborative innovation. He also told an inspiring story of how he met Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, after he had turned down his hypertext paper at a conference--all of this before the Internet came about. Berners-Lee did not give up, but showed up to the conference anyway, with pamphlets in his suitcase. In the end, Berners-Lee's evangelizing paid off, one would have to agree. This story goes to show that true collaborative innovation does not always start out without a strong leader who sees collaboration where others either don't see anything particular, or worse, actively resist.

Brands need to engage not preach

Kevin Redmond and Mike Hollywood from the Boston advertising agency MMB emphasized how brands used to broadcast their messages to the masses. Now, however, top brands like Subway are increasingly tapping into customers and users for new insight. Studies show that potential customers are more likely to trust their peers than corporate ads.

Crowdsourcing Challenges need Curation

Kelley Higgins from another Boston-area crowdsourcing player, Innocentive, explained how to properly run a crowdsourcing challenge, which includes getting the motivation and scope right. He emphasized "giving people the information they need", not more, not less. It would seem that being the judge of that takes practice as well as trial and error, although the LASSO acronym (Limited Scope, Actionable, Specific, Supported and Owned) he offered, might help. For Higgins, the reason crowdsourcing is efficient is that it engages the ‘Long Tail’ of diversity, including retired in-field experts, experts in parallel fields, gifted amateurs, and garage tinkerers.

Social network (Facebook), professional network (LinkedIn), insight network (Yegii)

Finally, Trond Undheim, Founder of Yegii, Inc., outlined how Yegii is shaping the way people will interact with knowledge online by allowing them to focus only on the facts that matter. Yegii is an insight network, where companies and professionals meet to tackle challenging business issues across all domains, from life sciences to energy to finance. Registering at as an Expert, Client, or Publisher allows you access to a community of knowledge professionals as well as the ability to compete for projects, share insight, and engage online to improve your Yegii score.


Throughout the unconference, the statistic 90-9-1 was tossed around. Many speakers, using varying forms of data, seemed to agree that only 1 percent of the users actually participate by creating new content, only 9 percent or so help edit or rate content, and the rest, 90 percent is still a passive audience. If this remains true, it would obviously prove to be a real barrier to total adoption of crowdsourcing in any sector. On the other hand, the phenomenon seems still untamed, hundreds of years after its invention. The event also discussed the origins of crowdsourcing as a practice, predates Howe's (2006) Wired article on iStockphoto and the like. Moreover, there are so many reasons to engage (social connection, peer recognition, intrinsic rewarding nature of working on something important, etc., that monetary awards fades in significance in comparison.