DEMO: CrowdSpring Is Like eBay For Creative Professionals - InformationWeek
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9/9/2008
09:05 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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DEMO: CrowdSpring Is Like eBay For Creative Professionals

CrowdSpring the first vendor I've ever interviewed that made me afraid. As we talked about their business model, I found myself thinking: Are these guys going to put me out of a job?

CrowdSpring the first vendor I've ever interviewed that made me afraid. As we talked about their business model, I found myself thinking: Are these guys going to put me out of a job?CrowdSpring provides a marketplace for creative professionals; they demonstrated their service at DEMOfall 08 in San Diego this week.

The service is focused at first on graphic design: Logos, and artwork for use in marketing literature and ad campaigns. A company looking for work posts the assignment to CrowdSpring, and then receives finished work from contractors participating in the service.

The prospective buyer provides feedback -- things he likes, things he'd like to see changed. The process is public; if a company rejects work, with feedback, artists other than the original author can see the submissions and the feedback and submit their own work in a second or third round of submissions. It's an interative process.

CrowdSpring is one of several so-called "crowdsourcing" services available, including Kluster, Cambrian House, and FellowForce. It differs from other services in that artist-contractors are required to submit completed works, not just concepts.

For businesses, it's a way to get graphics much faster than they'd be able to through other channels, and at less cost. For people who want to get in the commercial art business, it's a foot in the door. CrowdSpring artists include people in Asia and India, students, people with disabilities, Americans living living in remote locations, retirees, people looking to start second careers, and other people who otherwise would never have a chance to try to create graphic design for a big company.

Now here come the statistics:

The service has been up since May 6, and processed 40,000 entries in 670 projects for 30 companies, involving designers from 130 countries, speaking 90 languages.

CrowdSpring used its own service to design its Web site and logo. The company bought the logo from a 28-year-old janitor who taught himself graphic design.

Update 9/12: No, they didn't; they used a competing service.

CrowdSpring is now devoted solely to graphic design, but they plan to branch out to writing and video.

And that's the part that scares me. I interviewed CrowdSpring at the confereence this week. I asked: If CrowdSpring can link up companies with talented college students, disabled and shut-in Americans, and ambitious artists in Bangalore, what future is there for creative professionals -- like me!

Once CrowdSpring branches out to writing, if it's successful, won't editors just use the cheap, fast service there, and bypass demanding prima-donnas like me who demand health insurance, and enough salary for luxuries like food and shelter?

Crowdspring co-founders Mike Samson and Ross Kimbarovsky attempted to re-assure me. The company is looking to expand the market. Small businesses who'd otherwise never be able to afford to use a graphic designer can use CrowdSpring to get work done. And people who might otherwise never be given an opportunity to do graphic design work can do so through CrowdSpring.

"We are improving the size of the pie, not stealing pieces," Samson said. CrowdSpring is for beginners, and talented newcomers looking for a toe-hold in their business. They'll use CrowdSpring to get experience, a portfolio, and contacts, and then move on. The company expects a 90% annual turnover rate among contractors.

But if CrowdSpring and services like it catch on, where will creative professionals move on to? Why would companies looking to buy creative work hire veteran professionals when they can use talented newcomers?

Until now, I've thought that reliability is the one thing that the pro can offer that the amateur can't. Amateurs are often extremely talented, but they're unrelaible. They'll turn in exceptional work -- if they bother to turn in the work at all. They have day jobs, they have families, creative work is just a hobby for them, they don't need the money. They routinely blow off deadlines if they have something better to do.

Professionals are good, but they're also reliable. Creative work is their day job. It's not a hobby. They do need the money. They don't have anything better to do.

But does reliability matter with a service like CrowdSpring around? If you have 1,000 people doing work, it doesn't mattter if 95% of them are unreliable. That'll leave 50 people turning in the work, and you can pick the best of those, pay that work's creator, and show the other 49 the door.

Samson noted that other industries have been through this before: Microsoft is squeezed by people working for free on Linux. Journalists (like me) feel the strain from bloggers.

In the end, CrowdSpring didn't have an answer for me on how veteran creative professionals will continue to find work. But I came up with an answer for myself -- it's inherent in the iterative process. The contractors don't know the buyers, and the buyers have to provide feedback before they get what they want. The successful creative person will be the one who gets to know his client, or employer's needs, and gives them what they want first time out, without needing feedback.

Ironically, this is the same problem faced by the IT industry in outsourcingg. InformationWeek has been writing about that issue for years, and giving the same advice to IT managers: Outsourcing makes technology skills a commodity; the way to survive and thrive today is to understand the company's business, and be able to find technology solutions for that business.

Through services like CrowdSpring, it looks like soon enough I, and creative professionals like me, will need to apply that advice to my own career.

Will it work? Ask me again in 20 years. Hopefully, you won't have to look me up where I'm working as a greeter at Wal-Mart; I don't look good in a red vest.

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