The Web 2.0 era has seen the online community become an organic
source of innovation (Brabham et al, 2013), through the concept of crowdsourcing.
The birth of crowdsourcing began with author Jeff Howe introducing the term in
his article, “The Rise of Crowdsourcing”. This article spawned Howe’s
definition: “a mode of openness where firms broadcast innovation challenges in
the form of open calls to undefined (and generally large) groups of external
contributors” (Howe 2008).
It integrates top-down management processes with bottom-up
creative processes (Brabham et al, 2013) (Figure 2). The best crowdsourcing method
accounts for variances in the participants and their individual eccentricity (Noble,
2012). Crowds are better at finding more efficient and faster ways to solve organisational
problems and are better in situations where they can understand issues, obtain
ideas, test solutions and extend their resources.
With new technology and the rise of millennial power, we can
utilise the creativity of citizens to power products, research and knowledge. It’s
arguable that technology can enable people to become more skilled in problem-solving,
especially for public problems that may unwittingly affect them (Liu, 2017). We
are at more access to infinite skills, knowledge, talent and creativity of our populations.
“We’re talking about bringing people in from outside and involving them in this
broadly creative, collaborative process. That’s a whole new paradigm” (Howe,
How It Has Influenced
Private and Public Sectors
A 2016 report by Deloitte explored crowdsourcing and the value of
the crowd when considering strategy in these sectors. The US Government have
been requesting for open innovation and therefore introduced a new policy
through Challenge.gov to leverage external intelligence to address social problems
(Mergel and Desouza, 2013). Following from this, millennials, the prime
generation within the rise of web 2.0, are the most likely generation to
express support for politics, having brought some of the biggest results to
American Congress in recent years (Winograd and Hais, 2011), and have been a key
group in influencing political policies in the US.
Initially, crowdsourcing ideas are implemented first in the
private sector, as they do not consider attitudes except that of their sponsors
to advise the legitimacy of their solutions, and often see the crowd as an
alternative labour source that can influence financial performance of an
organisation (Liu, 2017).
Open innovation within the public sector has been raising awareness
of social problems and how policies affect citizens, prompting greater trust to
be established between governments and citizens (Mergel and Desouza, 2013) and additionally
influencing 85% of the 2014 Best 100 Brands to use crowdsourcing in campaigns
and developments in the past 10 years (eYeka, 2015). Public sector
organisations measure their success in through mission impact (Deloitte, 2013) and
the correct platforms can empower citizens, creating trust and establishing strength
between governments and citizens (Liu, 2017). Projects can be designed so that
citizens can not only solve the problem, but review, evaluate and be involved
in implementing new policies or other innovations (Mergel and Desouza, 2013).
Public sectors seek
to increase citizen engagement and challenge citizens to solve problems whilst
the private sector see the crowd as labour that can improve financial
Howe characterized four types, based on how crowds function and
what the organisation seeks (Figure 1). The concept is eliminating the cost
factors that once separated professionals and amateurs and opens opportunities
for “occasionalists” to demonstrate their talents. Crowd Creation requires crowd
competition to create a new product; Crowd Wisdom involves using the knowledge of
people, either internal or external from the business, to solve a problem;
Crowdfunding involves funding a project through raising money from a large
number of people who each contribute a small amount, mostly through the
internet; and finally, Crowd Voting is most popular because of participation
levels, and is used to gain community views on several topics, i.e. newspapers,
television, films and music and consequently will be the focus of this essay
with the case study, American Idol.
Idol, as its moniker, arguably enabled the internet to influence
the divide between commentators and fans. The American talent show created by
Simon Fuller, which ceased in April 2016 after 14 successful years, fuelled the
intrinsic desire of seeing other people succeed in the music industry and the
emotional and visual link between artists and viewers; the latter voting for
the contestant that most appealed during live shows, despite the viewer only
observing throughout “audition stages” where talent is selected by judges. American
Idol became a brand and a cultural phenomenon that allowed the audience to
control the narrative through participation and share commentary through digital
and social media.
It transformed the consumer into the creator. As user-generated TV
matures, users become more skilled in choosing the best competitors and the networks
more accurate in selecting talent to be evaluated. (Howe, 2006). Crowd voting is
the most common type of crowdsourcing and is cost-effective and interactive method
for organisations to hand over power to the crowd. “The interactivity was
important because this would allow the audience to tell me who they liked best
and this, in turn, would indicate to me who would have the most fans and
eventually sell the most music and become the biggest stars” (Fuller, 2011).
The show was created for a consumer-driven purpose, and its
interactivity was the ultimate marketing tool. Despite everyone being able to
critique the show, professional critics acted as cultural icons to discuss trends
and social issues that surrounded the show and the music industry (Seetharam,
2016). “It’s an ingenious strategy; Not only does the show act as a promotional
channel… but the voting provides Cowell, Fuller and other music executives with
a fine tuned gauge of consumer demand for the singer’s talents” (Howe, 2008).
The show began
before the rise of social media in a time where MySpace was newly launching,
YouTube didn’t exist and iTunes was unknown to anyone. The show fulfilled the
gap for reality and talent show television, and relied heavily on and traditional
marketing – billboards and magazine or TV advertisements- to promote the show. American
Idol paved the way for crowd voting to become the most effective method of
participation for citizens, and for organisations to gain insight into consumer
wants and needs.
The show left behind a legacy that allowed audiences to connect
emotionally with contestants, and through voting online, through the app, or
over the phone or via text. This form of crowdsourcing is based on the 1:10:89
rule, stating that of 100 people, 1% will create something valuable, 10% will
vote and rate submissions and the remaining 89% will consume the creation (Howe,
2008). The theory suggests that only 10% of the selected population will act
upon a creation whilst 89% consume it at will and without participation,
something that Idol exemplifies; 22 million watched the 2012 Idol season finale
(Moraes, 2012), crowd voting prompted 132 million people to participate and
vote the same night. In comparison, only 122 million voted in the US presidential
election the same year (ITV News, 2012), emphasizing the cultural impact this show
had on Americans.
As the 2000s progressed, so did the influence of social media.
Twitter and Facebook acting as main platforms brought together an online
community that further influenced crowd voting and increased awareness of the
show and social issues surrounding America and the music industry, including
image bias, racism, child exploitation and political awareness.
Drawing upon the 1:10:89 rule, and in contrast to Idol’s outlined success,
this formula may have contributed to the decline of the show in its final
years; where the 1% have contributed and only 10% have voted, there is a chance
that not every participant in crowd voting was unbiased, or even that there is
a probability that the verdict was wrong and did not reflect the total
population- as demonstrated in politics (The Guardian, 2017) (Independent, 2017)
Despite successfully engaging with audiences on digital platforms,
the death of Idol may have been due to the show failing to keep up with more
than just technology changes that the up-and-coming millennials were facing;
the talent show industry was booming. Idol’s once unique status had been threatened
by competing shows such as The Voice and America’s Got Talent and their fresh
take on talent shows and their controversies, not to mention the a slew of repetitive
Idol winners nicknamed “White Guys With Guitars”, and failing to cater to the
musical trends and changes the Americans were already adapted to.
Crowdsourcing is a remarkable concept and is sought by
organisations for its unlimited pool of creativity and knowledge and
flexibility where companies can employ individuals where and when needed to
deliver sought results. “Given the right set of conditions the crowd will
almost always outperform any number of employees – a fact that many companies
are increasingly attempting to exploit” (Howe, 2008), and with this being said,
a crowd will only make effort to provide innovative ideas where they feel that
their voice will be heard and innovations implemented. But following backlash
over repetitive winners, miming during live performances and “fabricated
storylines” about contestants being fed to media outlets prompted belief that
the show was staged and the “votes” were rigged. Idol was not created to find
superstars, but to attract viewers through the visual “making of a star”. American
Idol used crowd voting in its entirety and exploited the public for their knowledge
until they were no longer interested in what was to offer.