How Far Can Crowdsourcing Go?

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted Friday, April 05, 2013 14:05 PM

By Samuel Greengard

Over the last few years, crowdsourcing has wormed its way into public consciousness. Organizations—from businesses to public health officials—have turned to this concept to amp up data collection. They've also used it to generate new ideas and more accurately gauge how customers, business partners, and others think and behave.

Today's technology—particularly mobile devices and social media­—makes it increasingly easy to use crowdsourcing. Companies ranging from Starbucks to Mattel have turned to the concept to design new products and services. For example, Starbucks allows customers to post ideas at its Website, discuss them and vote on the ones the community likes best. As a result, the company has pursued and implemented innovative ideas.

Now, however, some organizations are attempting to take the approach one step beyond, Reuters reports. The news organization says that Wal-Mart Stores is weighing the idea of using customers to deliver packages to online buyers. Despite regulatory, legal and practical hurdles, the company believes that the plan could swap FedEx and UPS for Joe and Jane Smith. This could reduce costs and give the company an advantage over the likes of Amazon, it believes.

Wal-Mart is reportedly using this method at 25 stores and plans to double the number by year's end. Other companies such as Zipments are also introducing crowd-sourced delivery. It lets small retailers hire freelance couriers for delivery services.

On one hand, it's fascinating to watch society experiment with crowdsourcing and explore the boundaries of the concept. On the other hand, there's a reason why professional package delivery services like FedEx and UPS thrive.

They get the package to you on time, they're insured, they eliminate the creepiness of some stranger showing up at your doorstep, and they have systems in place to manage a variety of processes, from initiating a shipment to providing text notifications.

Crowdsourcing is a remarkable concept, and it will certainly be around for the long haul. However, just because information technology makes something possible doesn't mean that it's desirable or wise. The dot-com era proved that concept quite eloquently. By all means experiment with new ideas and innovative concepts—but don't forget to add two tablespoons of common sense.