Way back in 2006 Jeff Howe first used the term “crowdsourcing” and soon after used it to describe the Threadless business model. Before I began working for Threadless, that term did not seem offensive. It made sense and sounded harmless enough. But now, after being fully immersed in our culture for a year now, it’s just not right. We are a community, and there is a huge difference.
Let me use this post then to clarify these differences between community and crowd sourcing. Also, I want to give some props to some other companies who are doing the community-sourcing model proud.
First, let me thank Amy Sample Ward for a great overview she put together that helped me think this through. Based on how this works at Threadless, let me add to her definition:
Crowd sourcing key traits:
Community sourcing key traits:
As you can see, the community-based model is more targeted, sustainable, effective and rewarding for all parties.
Without our community of amazing artists, Threadless obviously wouldn’t have a business. Our community members are an integral part of what Threadless is. On the other hand, without Threadless’s business model, marketing and infrastructure, these artists likely wouldn’t have the same opportunities to reach such a wide audience of peers and consumers — and be compensated for their work.
Threadless isn’t the only company thriving with this community-based design model. Here are a couple of others that deserve some props:
Cotton Bureau: Starting first with United Pixelworkers (which I love), this clever Pittsburgh-based enterprise bills itself as a “curated online community for design- and tech-focused T-shirts.” While the designs are not “community-curated” like Threadless, they use a well-executed pre-ordering model to allow their community members to choose what they sell. The site is very well-designed, and its business model empowers (and rewards) a very talented and focused community of designers.
Quirky: Broader than T-shirts, Quirky is a socially-developed product incubator and marketplace. Community members are invited to not only submit new product ideas but also contribute their feedback as influencers every step of the way — and be compensated as these products are manufactured and sold based on their input. A very intriguing business that creates consumer products of all types — and has now scaled up to 75 employees! I must confess to owning quite a few Quirky products.
Maybe you haven’t heard of these? If so, I can assume you’ve heard of crowd-sourcing platforms such asKickstarter and Indiegogo — used by creators of all types to fund their projects. While Kickstarter is a much larger platform with asignificantly higher rate of successfully-funded projects (44% to 9%), Indiegogo may be preferable in some circles since it allows its creators to keep all money raised even if they don’t hit their minimum. Could be kind of sneaky, and I’m not sure that’s a benefit to the community. But if they are fiercely curating what goes on their site, then maybe there‘s a chance.
When it comes to crowd-sourced design, the differences are even starker. The major players like 99designs and crowdSPRING both consider themselves “marketplaces” for a community of designers to compete for the chance to win business from potential clients. Both of these are highly controversial within the design community and the ongoing anti-spec movement. Which I fully support.
But this, friends, is a whole ‘nother thing that I’ll have to come back to in the future. For now, I hope I’ve helped explain what community-based design is and is not.