INNOVATE

The Perks and Perils of Crowdsourcing: A Case Study

Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs, posted two chapters of his new book online to crowdsource changes. Crazy or brilliant?
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First, the news: Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs, has publicly shared two chapters of his new book, which is about "the innovations of the digital era." 

Why did he do this? "Online collaboration is why the Internet was originally built, and I'm interested in any comments or corrections readers might want to make before I publish in a year," he writes. 

The Perks of Crowdsourcing

Already, Isaacson has benefited from two key perks of crowdsourcing or crowdfunding: publicity and transparency. The publicity angle is obvious: Potential readers are learning about a book, one year ahead of its release. Moreover, the transparency has thus far proven fruitful. 

Stanford Professor of Political Theory Rob Reich, after reading one of the excerpts, suggested that Isaacson speak to a historian named Leslie Berlin. Isaacson replied, "Very important. I'm a fan of Leslie Berlin and her Noyce bio is superb."

The Potential Perils of Crowdsourcing

But for all of the upside, crowdsourcing and crowdfunding often come with risks. Here are two to consider, before you publicly share a business idea or project:

1. Killing the buzz. Any launch is bound to be less newsworthy if key elements have already appeared online. As Gregory Ferenstein points out on TechCrunch, this is one reason that Nick Bilton, who wrote a book about Twitter's early days called Hatching Twitter, didn't send out advanced copies. He wanted the book's release, and the rampup to it, to be more of an event. 

2. Lack of expertise. It's commonplace to cite "the wisdom of crowds," but the truth is, most crowds aren't populated with business experts. Let's say, for example, you turn to a crowdfunding site, as opposed to conventional investors (angels, VCs, institutions). Yes, you may receive your funding. Yes, you are bound to receive some helpful feedback, as Isaacson already has. But you are unlikely to get the insightful critiques you'd receive from seasoned investors.

"Traditional investors, like venture capitalists, can be a pain in the neck: they may ask you to change your business plan, overhaul your board of directors, fire your C.E.O," notes the New Yorker. However, the reason they're a pain in the neck is because they often know better. 

Ferenstein's article has more on Isaacson's crowdsourcing. 

IMAGE: siliconchris / Flickr.com
Last updated: Dec 30, 2013




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