Mob wisdom means business

So-called 'crowdsourcing' lets companies create massive focus groups, garner fresh ideas, and even predict the future

But the real carrot for companies looking into crowdsourcing is the knowledge that, when it comes to forecasting, wisdom is collective.

But for all its upsides, crowdsourcing does not work for every project or company. As a rule, crowdsourcing best fits structured transactions -- such as assigning keywords to an image, buying and selling stock, taking phone calls -- as opposed to more amorphous, customized tasks such as developing a marketing plan or corporate strategy. Let's not forget, opening the gates to the masses does open your company to the usual risks.

Netflix's predictive recommendations project, for example, almost burned corporate shorts when two computer scientists from the University of Texas were able to determine that for movies other than the 100 most popular, user ratings and the dates of those ratings when coupled with reviews found elsewhere on the Internet could be used to identify sources which were supposed to remain anonymous.

Yet for many organizations, there is just too much untapped knowledge within the company walls to forgo giving crowdsourcing at least an in-house chance.

As "The Wisdom of Crowds" author Surowiecki says, "Set aside the question of trying to reach outside the organization. One of the things that companies need to do a better job of [is] tapping the collective knowledge of the people inside their organizations. Just doing that would be an important first step."

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