Crowdsourcing = Community?

12 Mar

The more research I read on various ideas around crowdsourcing and online communities has me asking this question: Is an online crowdsourcing platform a community? Since I have to define this for my research paper, I figured was worth contemplating aloud.

At this moment in time, my gut tells me no – crowdsourcing platforms are not communities. But I’m wide open to discussions on this and am not yet confident enough to consider that my final answer.

Here’s my thoughts though:

Crowdsourcing platforms may be an aspect of a community, but are not in and of themselves communities per se. In my mind, the meaning of ‘community’ conjures thoughts of interaction, connectedness and engagement. In a crowdsourcing platform, my feeling is that it’s more about individuals offering their ideas, opinions and thoughts to an organization, usually with their own interests at heart. In most cases there is little discussion amongst the users regarding the merit of an idea and there is little further development of the ideas by a group of users – the submissions tend to be focused on individual wants and needs.

In many cases I think you’ll see users interacting with others in connected spaces – ie. Users of Dell’s IdeaStorm likely are also familiar with users from their technical support forums. However, I don’t believe that the crowdsourcing platform encourages the peer-to-peer interaction which is generally indicative of an online community. I suppose what I’m saying is that it removes the social aspect which is a defining feature of communities.

Does that mean that there are no interactions among users on crowdsourcing platforms? Absolutely not. If you look at open-source developer communities for instance, there is a lot of peer to peer interaction and support. It’s essentially crowdsourcing without the formalized submission structure – but then is it crowdsourcing at all? Where is the line between collaboration and crowdsourcing? And if it is a collaborative effort, does it then become a community?

In the end, I highly doubt I’m going to settle this one. Maybe there is no definitive answer. My guess is that it will all come down to how I choose to define it for the purposes of my own research. But I’m interested to hear what others think – might consider this a mini crowdsourcing (or maybe just collaborative?) effort.

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