Crowdsourcing – Keynote speaker Ross Dawson

Ross Dawson is an acclaimed futurist and keynote speaker whose compelling insights leave audiences stimulated and inspired.

He has been named as one of the most influential people in the world on crowdsourcing, is the author of one of the reference texts of crowdsourcing, Getting Results From Crowds, and has delivered numerous keynotes on the topic.

See Ross Dawson’s speaking topics including a number on crowdsourcing and its role in business value creation.

Keynote speaker video – The Future of Crowds at The Next Web in Amsterdam

Recently crowdsourcing expert Ross Dawson gave a keynote at TheNextWeb conference in Amsterdam on ‘The Future of Crowds’. Below is a video snippet of his inspiring keynote, offering compelling insights into the future of crowdsourcing.

Full Transcription: Future of Crowds at The Next Web


Ross Dawson:

My definition of a futurist is someone who helps people to think about the future, to make better decisions and to act better today.

When I look into the future and see some of the things perhaps a single biggest driver is a move to crowds and I believe that crowds are the future of almost everything. So it’s important to be able to look at that to explore a little bit the world of crowds and where they’re going.

So we have over 7 billion people on the planet, 7 billion minds, 7 billion bodies, all of us unique, all of us individuals, all with our own perspectives and intelligence and ways of thinking, and we can all have this passion and energy and the alignment in the way in which we bring our ideas and ways of working together to life. And these people are all over world, certainly here in Europe. Absolutely in Asia, in Latin America, all over the world we have many – we have all these insights and ways of thinking to bring to bear.

Now if we look at the big trends we can look at the monolithic organizations, the big boxes we’ve had in the past and what we are seeing is a shift, to now what I described is the economy of individuals, they’ve been shattered into pieces bringing us to the individual. The meaningful unit of the economy today is not organizations; it’s individuals. You. The people you know, the people around you, people you are working with. And what each of us does, what all the people in the crowd do; is they contribute. They contribute many things. Ideas, work, opinions, perspectives, money in the case of crowdfunding and so what we need to do is crystallize, to build the mechanism where by all of these extraordinary contributions from many, many people can create amazing things.

So I have a simple definition for crowdsourcing and that’s “tapping the minds of many”. So now that we are so richly connected there are so many minds, so much imagination that we can tap, crystallize and create extraordinary things out of.

This is my crowdsourcing landscape., in my book “Getting Results from Crowds” – you can just search for that and you can see the landscape there.

It identifies 22 categories of crowdsourcing. This is not a simple thing. A lot of people think about crowdsourcing as one thing, it’s design competitions or about, contributing opinions around things. It’s many, many things. We don’t have time to look at all of these things but what I want to do is explore a little bit this entire world and to be able to zoom out from the world of today, to look at the big picture, of what I think are the ten domains in which crowds are important, at work, organizations, business models, capitalism, reputation, media, marketing, innovation, opportunity, and government. So, what we’ll do is to zoom in to each of these worlds and just spend a moment in each of them. Just skim through the surface of clearly what are extraordinarily rich spaces and see what’s happening in those worlds.

So first let’s go down and see what’s happening in the world of work.

And in the world of work we have individuals working hard who now because they are connected are amongst other things, are competing with everyone else in the world, whether you’re in Amsterdam or Zimbabwe, or Bangalore, you are competing with everyone else with talent around the world. So we must be world class. If we are not world class we’re a commodity. So, if we look at this whole world at large, there are many, many people and many, many workers, all working in different ways. So the trick that comes is, if we are so specialized, we must connect with others. We must collaborate with others, we must bring our talents together with others, to be able to create value, to be able to create extraordinary things.

And moving on from that, we have now a whole range of marketplaces. Ways in which work flows easily, these fluid markets we have. We have microtasks; these very small things such as recognizing photos or adding submissive data to something or checking something or translating a phrase and there are markets which bring this together at very low cost.

We have a whole range of service marketplaces; Elance, Freelancer, and oDesk. We heard from Matt Barrie from Freelancer yesterday who are creating already now over a billion dollars worth of work flowing through these. And in the next years to come, probably quite soon, ten billion dollars. These are places where work flows. All sorts of kind of work, any work. You know, I often say that it’s everything except hairdressing and massages is now going to become global.

But we also have specialist network. This is not just about commoditize work, it’s also more across specialist. So Kaggle. We’ve heard data-science quite a lot in this conference and this and this is where the top data scientists compete, to win prizes about more better analysis, predictive modeling, and the biggest prize on that is a US insurance company offering 3 million dollars for the best analysis of data.

We have Vumero which – where are the financial analysts. People that come out of Morgan Stanly or PwC, do at a reasonable cost provide their insights to anyone around the world.

So if we move on from the world of work and look at organizations, and organizations are clearly fundamentally changing. The transaction costs that Ronald Coase talked about are shrinking all the time. Which means that when we have, what we look now is that the boundaries of organizations are blurring. The difference, what happens outside organizations; what happens inside organizations, are blurring more and more. So the heart of strategy today is to answer a simple question: What happens inside the organization, and what happens outside the organization? And that boundary is changing all the time as we can put so much more of what our organization does to create value around us.

The simple quote by Bill Joy: “no matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else”. And in fact, in a more recent sort of study, showed that every single domain, every single area – there is no organization that has more than 1% of the talent. And that means that if you’re an organization relying solely on your own talent you’re in extraordinary disadvantage to those that are tapping the world outside open innovation, being able to tap insights and talent from around the world. And if we, you now, look now at business processes, business processes don’t just happen inside organizations, business processes have to link to other things that are happening outside organizations in various ways. We have been able to say the things that are creating value do not just happen inside your organizations they happen: within, across and beyond those boundaries.

So from there and clearly particular interest to the crowd here is that of business models. And what I’ve done is to organize the crowdsourcing landscape into eight categories of business models. And again you can go to or search for Crowd Business Models and where I’ve looked at both in terms of monetization and the success factors for each of these crowd business models.

So there’s a whole array, now, business cannot say, “Okay, we’ll, this is our business. Oh, how do we, how do we include the crowd? How do we tack it on?” It doesn’t work that way anymore. Business models must start from the crowd. Just to give a few very simple examples: we have which used to be jigsaw which was acquired by Salesforce and what it does is, it has 2 million members which pay it for the, the pleasure and privilege of donating all of their personal contact data. So, everyone they know, all of the phone numbers and emails and so on.

Now what this means, is, that those who subscribed have access – currently, every time somebody moves company, then, hundreds and thousands of people have to update their database if they find out about it. Now, because that is run by the crowd, the first person to know about it can update it, and immediately we have access to the latest information and data and a great business model in it.

Giffgaff is a UK based telephone company. So, they say “all of our things we do are created by the crowd.”

The customer service, the marketing, the support, and the people who contribute from that, the customers are rewarded with money or free time on air or contributions to charity.

And we have other ones like, a fantastic example where, which is a product company and all of the products are designed by the crowd where people say, “I’ve got a great new idea for a product,” they submit it, other people refine it, they add to it, they vote on it. They select the best ones and the best ones go in the stores like Toys-r-us and Target and they actually have a deal with Home Shopping Network. So those who have bought contribute the ideas and added and refined the ideas are rewarded. They’re paid for their contributions over time.

And we’ve also seen today we got “babble verse” which is a crowd based business model which is one of the startups outside. Being able to bring these new models to bear, tapping the crowds to create value.

Now, capital. I used to be global director of capital markets at Thomson Financial so I’ve got a perspective on capital markets. Capital needs to go to where it has the most value. If it doesn’t, the whole system is broken. But there are so many people in here who are deserving of capital and you want to have that.

Now Marillion I don’t know what you call them a glam-rock band, they in the 90’s said they wanted to do a tour in the United States but they couldn’t get any promoters. So they went to their fans. This is ’97, so they had the Internet. They went out to the fans and said, “Please, would you contribute some money, so that we can do a US tour.” They raised $60,000 and they did a US tour, and their fans were rewarded.

In 2000 Artist Share set up – and they provide a platform for artists – and it was only in 2008 that Indiegogo and then Kickstarter set up crowdfunding, just four years ago. And you’ve already heard yesterday about the pebble e-watch. It’s a e-ink watch, just strap it to your, to your wrist and it links to your mobile phone. So it gives you not just the time but also the weather and your, your Twitter updates and your latest messages. So, it’s a, you know, great product and it has raised, at last count, 6. 6 million dollars.

It was only February 10th that the first million dollar project was done on Kickstarter and two of them came in the same day. Double Fine Adventure a game and also basically an iPhone stand which was funded for a million dollars. Now we have or – just in the last couple of months of our six million dollars for the top one, 3.3 for the next one, 3 million dollars the next one to get this whole new structure for how money is being raised.

Critically important, April 5th, Obama signed into law, the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act which enables cloud funding for equity, which means if you have a great idea, then anybody you convince it’s a great idea can contribute a small amount, you can you have many people to contribute small amounts and this is extraordinary enabler, for startups, for innovation for ideas, and so these are really shifting ways of capitalism where the crowd, is allocating money to where they want. And this legislation is now going to flow through to other countries from the US’s lead.

I talk about the reputation economy, this is one of the biggest trends we have this decade and beyond, where, clearly if we’re dealing with an individual, if we’re dealing with a business, we’d like to know more about them. And so, all of them have contact with many people. So there’s this role for an organization which sits in the middle, which is able to aggregate all of the opinions of people to create a reputation measure for each of those organizations or the individual. Clearly we have Yelp, we have TripAdvisor, we have which is a service where people anonymously rate other people, and give their opinions on them. Now we are still just at the beginning of these, but these reputation measures are extraordinarily valuable. They start to provide context to us.

So, as we know, we have mobile apps, including augmented reality apps, where we can, look around us, see the restaurants or the bars we can see how much people like them and chooses ones we choose to wonder in. Now that we’re having augmented reality glasses hopefully kicked off by Google’s glass project, means that when we walk up to people in the street, it will not only tell us what their name is and what their Twitter handle is, but it’ll also tell us their reputation so we’ll know whether or not we should say hello to them.

And moving on from reputation we have a world of media. And this is one thing which is pretty clearly being driven by crowds over the last, the last decade or more.

We have the whole monolithic worlds of news and television and, images, and music. And clearly what is happened from the late ’90’s moving on is all of this has been shattered into pieces where we don’t just have the big providers or publishers or streamers – we have worlds many, many, many. The crowds have being creating content. And that’s not a new story, that’s one of the big shifts, where, content is being created by many. Clearly, there’s a massive amount of drops in that but there’s also extraordinary gems things that never would have gone out otherwise, things that wouldn’t have been found.

So when the crowd looks at that, and this is where we are still in process and still in finding is where those individuals can find what is fantastic, what is brilliant from all of that, again this is a form of reputation measure were the crowds are selecting from, we have now an infinity of content where the crowds together can find and discover what is truly unique. What is really wonderful, and that’s what all of us are doing, initially through Twitter and other platforms which are going to develop more over time.

We have media clearly if we want to think about marketing. This idea of how do we use crowds to be able to market things at large. The whole world of T.V. commercials and how it used to be sort of the 30 second commercials and going to broadcast things to people. Even that world has changed. So this is an advertisement for Harley Davidson which was created by the crowd. “Victors and Spoils” was an ad agency set up two and half years ago – by who used to be the strategy director at “Crispin Porter + Bogusky” and they have clients like “Harley Davidson” and “Levis” and other large companies, and what they so is they go to not everybody, they have what is, what I call a “managed crowd”. They have highly talented people that they have worked in advertising before, they choose the best from, they work with them, they bring the client in – to be able to create in this case, the first TV commercial created by the crowd. Bringing the ideas together, refining them and, and taking them at large.

We have the Blur Group and that is a platform where you can go in and instead of going to one agency or getting bids and ideas from three or four or five agencies, you can get them from dozens. There’s platforms, there’s marketplaces where you can democratize really, the availability of talent making sure you’re getting the right comparative pricing and getting the best ideas. Which again they don’t come from the few, they come from the many. So going to the many is what brings them in.

You know, Sam Adams at South by Southwest had a beer which was especially for South by Southwest that was created by the crowd. The crowd actually designed the beer. Now it’s probably a gimmick, in one sense, ’cause you can’t – they have taste leavers and how much hops and so on in it. So it’s, it’s not really creating the beer. But it’s a way of engaging customers in various ways and being able to tap their ideas, to get them engaged, to hopefully get them buying the Sam Adams which comes out the other side.

And so now if we look at the top eight brands in the world as ranked by inter-brand, all of them are using crowdsourcing in their marketing and another ways as well in various guises. Intel has T.V. commercials created by the crowd, Microsoft is getting videos to help with it’s teacher outreach program. Coca-Cola has all sorts of initiatives and T.V’s and marketing which are created by the crowd. All of them are saying “but this is just a very beginning”. Clearly more and more marketing is not: “Okay. Here’s a great idea. Let’s push it out to all these people”. How do we engage people? It’s not all about pushes. It’s about getting the crowd to be engaged, to want to create that, to be part of the message, to be part of this whole movement.

From marketing we move on to innovation and that’s one of the most critical ones, because, as I said, innovation can’t happen in just a single place. It has to happen beyond that. So you’ve probably heard the story of Procter & Gamble and their move to open innovation where from 2000 A.G. Lafley the CEO said :”We must have half of our innovation outside”. So when they wanted to extend the Swiffer range into a Swiffer duster they found that what they did internally wasn’t as good as what they could find externally. So, they went outside to create a ninety million dollar a year opportunity. They are open, they are looking, they are seeking what is the best, from what is there around the world.

We have prediction markets and these are applied in all sorts of way. So in Best Buy for example, and you will see this process where people inside Best Buy are actually, making votes, they are doing trades to be able to predict what the sales are going to be for that organization. Now these kinds of prediction markets are being applied in pharmaceutical companies, regularly, and many other companies where the people inside the company can predict what is the success of this product going to be? Is it going to get to market on time? What other resources do we need? So rather the product manager giving the report, everybody in the organization can see what’s going inside, what’s going on outside, can work that out and get in that collective intelligence on where the bet should be placed, where things that should be happening inside the organization.

And we also have amazing situations where, like, I’m sorry Fold it. Now Fold it. You can see here is a level 47 player of the game Fold it. Now Fold it is a game where you play with proteins. Proteins are the essence of life and they can only fold in particular ways. So, the game Fold it is where people can go in and they can see how can this protein fold? How does it not fold? And learning this gives scientists the ability to design new drugs to be able to find new ways to help people. And it’s these kinds of opportunities that we have through, aggregating people’s attention, aggregating their talent through structures, like gaming.

I think one of the biggest shifts in the world is between the haves and the have nots. This connection is extraordinary yet it polarizes and many ways. It says many people that are not connected, that are not able to benefit, and whilst we, all of us, the elite really, are taking advantage of this; many of them aren’t.

So in addition to the service marketplace I mentioned, there’s this platform called Samasource. And Samasource is specifically designed- essentially is a fair trade service market place. They find people who they are able to give work to in developing countries. They find clients in developing world to be able to give that. And so these are ways in which we can equalize, we can give opportunity, we can give work in developing countries now are going to rely more and more on the incomes and the possibilities of these worlds.

We have VizWiz and that’s one of my favorites where this blind gentlemen is taking a photo with his iPhone of his socks. Then speaks into it says: ” what colors are these socks”, and within thirty seconds, suddenly from a whole pool of people around the world will say the one on the – type in, the one on the left is black and the one on the right is white and gray and then it speaks it back and it says it to him. So, for example, like going to the cupboard in their, in their kitchen, they can say, “Which is the can of soup?” And they can use a photo. So, the crowds are lending their eyes to blind people to be able to do these things. There is an extraordinary way in which we equalize opportunity through the…Through these tools.

And finally, we have government. Now government I think goes beyond what we think of government today. Government needs to be something which is about how do we together create our lives. Now clearly crowds have always been what shapes government. We’ve seen that in Egypt, where there’s crowds in Tahrir Square have changed the government and many other countries and they’re regions around them. So, but they have been amplified. I always believe that I talk about social media was the amplifier of our voices, of our expressions, and that’s what happened where these crowds have made themselves felt over time.

We have, for example, in Iceland. The recent constitution of Iceland was crowdsourced, all of these people are there to be able to contribute to the crowdsourcing of the Icelandic constitutions. It was also on Facebook and in other online wiki. So we are forming policy as crowds, the New Zealand Police Act quite a few years ago it was actually shaped on a wiki. So collectively we are not just voting for people and saying: “Okay. Go do until next time we vote you in or vote you out”. We are collectively making things happen.

Clearly the information the government has, the many departments that the government have, it’s our information.

So, when they create a very simple mechanism, such as in API’s. The proliferation of innovation creates all of these applications. We can access, we can add value through what the government provides us, through what our government provides us. We tend to think of the government and us; but, they, the government, must be us. We must shape the government and beyond this clearly is the shift of participatory democracy, which will have its struggles on the way but absolutely, we need to be able to create that, to take control. To become more the government. To be the government which controls us.

So if we then zoom out, we’ve seen these worlds. The worlds in which crowds apply of work, organizations, business models, capitalism, reputation, media, marketing, innovation, opportunity and government. So, let’s zoom back into the world, the Earth, and see in fact we live in a global brain. The people on the planet are as the neurons in the brain. We are now so richly connected. This is an old dream, this is an old story, the ancient Greeks, used to say that together we can have a collective intelligence, and just as we can imagine flying through the brain today the people on our profiles is only just in the last few years we have so richly connected to the messages that flow between us really make us, all of us and our connections like a global brain. Again it doesn’t have necessarily value itself. We must distil that value, we must find the value from which this flow this, this connections can truly create collective intelligence. We can then together be more intelligent than we are separately. It’s an extraordinary ambition, yet that is something that is a part of the human race I believe moving forward.

So this gentleman, this wild looking guy, that’s John C. Lilly. If you saw the film Altered States from a while ago that’s, it was based on him. He was a scientist who explored with, amongst other things, human-dolphin communication and taking LSD in sensory deprivation tanks, and other ways of exploring consciousness. And he had a dream that we can achieve not just global intelligence but a global consciousness. That we can be so richly connected in our thoughts, that, in fact, our consciousness can be something beyond us. Again, this is an age-old dream, yet we are getting closer to the technologies that will enable us to achieve it.

Now, one of my publications of my group of companies is, where we explore the future of sex, and there’s many interesting aspects of that—virtual sex, remote sex, robots, modes of entertainments and so on. But if we look at just a little beyond the immediate there’s potential to actually touch the pleasure sensors of our partners through technological means. To be able to have that into media, to be able to actually stimulate ourselves, which raises the potential, perhaps not immediately here, that we can create a crowd orgasm. Imagine what that would be like. So these are the some of the possibilities, the potentials. So we think, what is the potential of crowds, these are some of the things that we can dream about.

Now, Marshall Mcluhan, great visionary. One of the things that he said is that media is an extension of our senses, and what it means for example TV. Every TV camera is an extension of our eyes. It enables to see where we are not today. Radio is an extension of our ears. Where we can hear, where we aren’t today. Today crowds are the extension of our capabilities. They give us so much more potential. There are so much more that we can achieve through crowds, and that’s extension of who we are. That is a real possibility.

Now we live in this recently connected world with talent everywhere and I’m sure some of you will be interested in how I’ve created this visual presentation. This is in fact I’ve been aspiring to do an entirely moving visual presentation for some years and this is in fact the first time I’ve done this. And it’s enabled by the crowds, you know, something like this not long ago would have cost tens of thousand dollars to create. Now through the crowd it is possible to be able to create this motion graphics presentation. So I believe we’re at the beginning of the near fully motion, fully moving presentations. The old present power-points with bullet points, I hope are of the past. So I have set a starting point and I invite you to go out and to create better and better, fully motions graphic presentations. Certainly this for me was just a starting point and I want to be able to go beyond it, to continue to improve that, so that the visual moving images are part of the immersive world of how we communicate messages. How we move beyond.

So, I truly believe that we are at the dawn of a new era. The crowds give us so much more capabilities and the people in this room, all of you are the ones that will do that, to be able to create new business models, to be able to create new forms of marketing, to be able to create new opportunities for people around the world, to be able to create extraordinary things. I invite you to create the future from crowds. Thank you.


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