Pepsi conducted a contest recently called Design Our Pepsi Can. Users submitted 100,000 designs and through online voting decided on their favorite design. The designer won $10K and gets the warm and fuzzy’s associated with having his design printed on a line of cans.
Had Pepsi gone the traditional route the design would have cost an order of magnitude more than what it cost them (not including the promotional expense for the site itself.) They not only get a design on the cheap, prevalidated as a popular design, but they save a hell of a lot of money. And who knows, maybe the winner doesn’t normally make a living through design/art work. Or maybe they just gave away their professional services for cheap.
I won’t argue for or against the merits of this type of crowdsourcing, but I will say that it can, has, and will work — given the right conditions, product, etc. Of course crowdsourcing such as this cannot be applied to everything, Pepsi will continue to design cans the old fashioned way, but they have obviously benefited from conducting the contest. Not to mention that the folks who submitted the 100K designs spent at least a bit of time thinking about Pepsi and designing a cool can. It’s the Threadless model of can design.
It seems people tend to jump on a trend and assume it will take over the world (see offshore outsourcing, feared massive unemployment as a result of). Not the case. Crowdsourcing can’t be ignored. It also can’t be used exclusively or parasitically. Any company that attempts to suckle at the teat of free or drastically cheap labor through crowdsourcing exclusively will ultimately fail.