Increasingly popular, "crowdsourcing" involves inviting a large number of people to perform a task, with a prize promised to the person or team whose work is selected as the winner. Specialized web sites now exist where you can ask people to compete by creating designs for T-shirts, logos or ads. Not long ago, crowdsourcing was even featured on a TV show, House MD, where disease aficionados competed for a $25,000 reward offered by the patient to the person who arrived at the correct diagnosis.
When it comes to naming a company or product through crowdsourcing, there are actually three ways to do it.
Crowdsourcing Method #1: Run a contest. This procedure goes back decades, and it doesn't require the Internet or any advanced technology. You simply need a way to let people know about the contest and tell them how to enter, and this can be done on radio, TV, in newspapers or magazines, at events, through mailing pieces or via flyers. You have one or more judges, choose a winner and award a prize.
Crowdsourcing Method #2: Ask for help in an online forum. I've seen requests for help with names and tag lines in many business-related online forums and email discussion lists - both public and members-only ones. Generally no reward is offered or given in this kind of setting. Some participants provide suggestions, while others kibitz, praise and criticize.
Crowdsourcing Method #3: Use crowdsourcing sites specifically devote to naming. These include Naming Force, Name This and, to a lesser extent, Mechanical Turk. With this option, there is a formal technical infrastructure for making suggestions and selecting the best name candidate, and generally the user pays a reward of up to $100 or $200.
Some people think the advantages of crowdsourcing are way too obvious to dwell on - especially, saving money and getting more input from more people. However, there are many less obvious disadvantages as well, so let's be systematic in listing both pros and cons.
Five Advantages of Crowdsourcing
1. Savings. The set-up cost for crowdsourcing is little or nothing. At most you owe $100 or $200 as the winner's reward. This costs far less than hiring a professional.
2. Access to talent. Although many crowdsourcing entries are nothing to write home about, some amateurs, novices, moonlighters and retirees may get involved and give you excellent work.
3. Quick results. Need a logo, a T-shirt design or a product name by the end of the week? Crowdsourcing often works with that fast a turnaround. In-demand professionals may not be able to get to your job and finish it so quickly.
4. A wide range of ideas. Since you get to see entries from many, many people, you probably have access this way to many, many more ways of thinking about your challenge than would be generated by an individual or a small team.
5. Bonus insights. Often the flood of input from people outside your field of expertise prompts valuable observations about perceptions of your organization or topic.
Five Disadvantages of Crowdsourcing
1. No confidentiality. To receive useful name suggestions, you must toss secrecy out the window. Strategic information about your plans for the company or product, its features, benefits and target market necessarily become public and available to your competition. Worse, with crowdsourcing methods #2 and #3, anyone watching the ideas come in can snatch up a concept for themselves or register a relevant domain before you can.
2. No accountability. Unlike a professional you hire, your suggestors aren't bound by ethics, so they can deliberately submit stolen or recycled names with no responsibility or consequences. This has actually occurred in several logo contests or crowdsourcing competitions.
3. Lack of professional effort. Namers usually don't know much about what you're trying to name, and they rarely take the time to understand the background of your project and its real-world constraints.
4. No culling. It's so exhausting to have to wade through hundreds or thousands of low-quality entries that you run the risk of overlooking a few terrific suggestions hiding amongst the dreck.
5. Easily derailed. Because all three crowdsourcing methods are public, they can be taken over by mischief makers or even competitors who skew the process for their own ends.
Think carefully about what's at stake in your naming project. If you have no concern for secrecy and you're prepared to cope with the other dangers, then the savings and the unfettered creativity of crowdsourcing might work well for you. On the other hand, if you might sustain damage from your project's plans becoming public or the naming process going off the rails, you're better off sticking to internal naming or hiring a naming professional.