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Predicting the Growth of Crowdsourcing
© Image: Shutterstock / Fer Gregory
editorial

Predicting the Growth of Crowdsourcing

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post that comes to us from Erran Carmel, Professor of Information Technology at American University’s Kogod School of Business. Carmel looks at some of the predictions that have been made about crowdsourcing and cloud labor, and (where possible) assesses the validity of these predictions. You can read Carmel’s blog here, and follow him on Twitter @excarmel.

Today, I will look into the crystal ball of crowdsourcing. This is driven by an intersection of two of my interests: I am a futurist and I am an expert on sourcing and crowdsourcing.

Those of us studying crowdsourcing, human cloud, and labor-as-a-service think that dramatic things will take place in this space. In this piece, I compile some specific crowdsourcing predictions.

Crowdsourcing is about work that is sliced off and tasked to the crowd — globally — for pay. (Crowdfunding is not included here). Leading crowdsourcing platforms include Elance, oDesk, Freelancer, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Innocentive, and Zhubajie.

In 2010, I conducted an analysis of predictions of offshore sourcing, which is an area I know well — I even had written a book about it. By 2010, when I did my assessment, there was enough runtime to assess whether some predictions were on target. And some, namely, the twin 2002 “Mothers of All Offshoring Predictions” — the McKinsey and Forrester predictions — were remarkably prescient. You can find this 2010 predictions analysis here.

There are some conditions in order to make it into my crowdsourcing list of predictions.Namely, the prediction has to have the M-D pairing. That is, the prediction has to have a specific measurable outcome (M) and a specific target date (D). Now, mind you, the M-D pairing is a fairly rare one in its pure form. Most serious futurists are pretty careful not to stray into such dangerous territory, lest their predictions turn out wrong. Ross Dawson, for example, stays away from the M-D pairing; so, he didn't make my list.

Below, I present 3 groupings of crowdsourcing predictions.

General predictions about the future of work vis-à-vis crowdsourcing. There are two predictions about the future of work. Both foresee a significant rise in freelancers, and those freelancers working in teams. These two predictions together are built on important trends. For a futurist, the term “trend” is used more carefully that in everyday dialogue. This trend — increased employment of individuals, free-lancers, contingent labor — is likely a long-term trend.

Crowdsourcing innovations. These are the most fun and creative predictions. Kudos to Casey Armstrong for these three. Casey focuses on specific innovations within crowdsourcing: real-time (immediate response to labor requests), blurring of digital versus physical, and the form of payment. Casey made these predictions recently, so they are too early to assess.

Crowdsourcing numbers. There are four of these predictions. They all predict fantastic growth for the crowdsourcing sector. But wait: these predictions aren’t all that heroic. With crowdsourcing in its fast growth phase right now, it has naturally been doubling annually in recent years. If you make some reasonably conservative assumptions of a sector in its early growth years, then you reach these large numbers fairly easily. Note that all these predictions are made by players within the crowdsourcing sector, so they are certainly self-serving. Nevertheless, I concur with the enormous potential in this sector.

Those of you who want to see the raw predictions, all nine of them, here they are:

General predictions about the future of work vis-à-vis crowdsourcing

Predictor: Gartner Maverick, a large consultancy
Topic of Prediction: Amount of work performed by permanently employed, self-managed clusters. A cluster is a self-managed team that is formed outside the enterprise
Measure: 30 percent
Duration: 8 years
Target date: 2020
Assessment: Too early to tell
Source: Gartner Maverick, consultancy report

Predictor: IDC, a consultancy
Topic of Prediction: Full-time, home-based freelancers and independent contractors in America
Measure: 14 million (a rise from 12 million at forecast time of 2010)
Duration: 5 years
Target date: 2015
Assessment: Probably on track; somewhat difficult to assess because it’s open to assumptions. For example, NPR (National Public Radio) and the Freelancers Union make high estimates of U.S. independent workers. 30 percent of the nation's workers now work on their own, reported NPR in 2012. The freelancers union, on its website, estimates 42 million workers are independent.
Source: IDC, a consultancy

Crowdsourcing innovations

Predictor: Casey Armstrong of the Daily Crowdsource, a crowdsourcing consultancy
Topic of Prediction: Real-time crowdsourcing will be the norm
Measure: Somewhat open to interpretation
Duration: 5-7 years
Target date: 2017 to 2019
Assessment: Too early to assess
Source: The Daily Crowdsource

Predictor: Casey Armstrong of the Daily Crowdsource, a crowdsourcing consultancy
Topic of Prediction: New tools like precision internet controlled robotic arms, augmented reality glasses, and telepresence robots will take online work out of the digital and into the physical world
Measure: Open to interpretation
Duration: 5-7 years
Target date: 2017 to 2019
Assessment: Too early to assess
Source: The Daily Crowdsource

Predictor: Casey Armstrong of Daily Crowdsource, a crowdsourcing consultancy
Topic of Prediction: Computation will be the main unit of currency in crowdsourced projects
Measure: Open to interpretation
Duration: 5-7 years
Target date: 2017 to 2019
Assessment: Too early to assess
Source: The Daily Crowdsource

Crowdsourcing Numbers

Predictor: Elance
Topic of Prediction: The market for online contingent work
Measure: increase 100 percent (double)
Duration: 1 year
Target date: Dec 2012
Assessment: On target
Source: Elance 

Predictor: Staffingindustry.com and oDesk
Topic of Prediction: Crowdsourcing
Measure: $5 billion
Duration: 5 years
Target date: 2018
Assessment: Too early to tell
Source: The Economist

Predictor: oDesk, a major crowdsourcing platform
Topic of Prediction: The world’s workers will gain this much online work
Measure: $27.6 billion increase
Duration: 9 years
Target date: 2022
Assessment: Too early to tell
Source: Forbes

Predictor: Maynard Webb, CEO of LiveOps, a major crowdsourcing platform
Topic of Prediction: Crowdsourcing as a percent of world’s work
Measure: 1-2 percent of world’s work
Duration: 10 years
Target date: 2020
Assessment: Too early to tell
Source: The Economist

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