Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Crowdsourcing is Evil

I recently had a look at a site/app called Kaggle.  ( and have come to the conclusion that crowd sourcing can be used for evil.

This is not specifically an exercise in Kaggle bashing... I have also formed an intense dislike of a number of other crowd source systems.
My fundamental dislike is that it takes a few hundred highly trained people and all their time and rewards a single person/team a few hundred bucks while on the other side of the equation, providing the "sponsor" with a solution that can be leveraged for significant gain.

This simply turns the value of all that labor and knowledge into virtually a worthless commodity.  Each person had to pay dearly in time and money for the education to even get into the competition, they then had to spend the time, labor and equipment resources to actually compete and then (mostly) did not get any material reward.  To add insult to injury, the sponsor gets to keep the solution all for themselves. No public good what so ever.

The worst problem is that this kind of system provides a fairly deterministic result for the "sponsor". In that the vast majority of the challenges result in a solution (where the data set actually has a useful solution) this means that this is a viable and insanely cheap way to do R&D rather than employ a bunch of knowledge workers and finance all the failures, you only need to pay a pittance for the best solution from a buffet of options.  SCORE!!!!.

Suddenly using something like Kaggle is soooooo much more compelling than actually employing all those highly trained but expensive knowledge workers that the western economies have been hoping like hell would start to pay the bills after their tax base all went to the developing world.  DUH!

So.... not only does it suck to be a knowledge worker in a country that has no R&D sector... but it sucks to be a knowledge worker anywhere.  You now have to "compete" in a game to try to "win" a few cents on the dollar for your labor.... lulz.

There is a shiny inner core to this cloud of choking gunk... the problems that are being solved and the solutions have two nasty stings in the tail for a company hoping to turn them into a product... the first is implementation and the second is .... maintenance.

So while a company can skip the majority of the R&D cost and time required to get a solution, they still need people to product-ise it and keep the system running.  At some point they will have to hire someone somewhere who cares enough about the product to actually do some work.
If they out-source everything their product will only look good on paper.  There will be no support, no in-house knowledge and no way to evolve. The question is what sort of clock-speed this realisation will have.  If the crowd sourcing model destroys the knowledge economy before the downside of crowd sourcing catches up with the head of the cycle, will there be any knowledge economy left?

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