Competitive Intelligence

Tactical, Operational & Strategic Analysis of Markets, Competitors & Industries

Dear Group members,


I recently read some interesting insights on Crowdsourcing, a practice that Wikipedia defines as "the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor to a large group of people or community (a crowd) through an open call". The key in crowdsourcing is to break down a specific task into small chunks of work that can be performed by a relevant established professional (or knowledgeable amateur) in his spare time for the benefit or a larger organization.


This type of practice has already been used in Marketing activities such as when a company wants to design a new t-shirt it makes an open call for submissions from web users. Crowdsourcing has also been used in writing code in software production. A more hypothetical example would be that a CI - professional would crowdsource parts of a background investigation into a competitor so that someone would do financial due diligence. another value chain analysis, another competitive positioning analysis etc... There are no immediate arguments that come to my mind why this sort of practice could not be used in industrial manufacturing, too, at some point in the process.


Crowdsourcing is not a subject without controversy, not least because of the implications it has for the world of work. But I started to think more deeply about the fact that the crowdsourcing assignments are sought through an "open call". More specific questions that came to my mind are: How open is the call for submissions? How much signals about its intentions does the company give away by submitting the open call, although the assignment is broken down into smaller tasks that do not necessarily give away the whole plan? How can companies utilize crowdsourcing without giving away too much information about its intentions? How can competitive intelligence professionals get intel on the intentions of competitors by mining open calls for crowdsourcing assignments? How can that be done ethically?


Maybe some of you have already come across crowdsourcing as a phenomenon, and maybe also the CI-implications of crowdsourcing. It would be interesting to discuss this topic here on the IntelCollab.


Best regards,



PS. The Wikipedia-entry on "Crowdsourcing" to which I referred above can be found under:

Views: 265

Replies to This Discussion

Hi Ari,

Interesting post, and your specific questions are very apt. As a Strategic Intelligence manager/analyst, I have nagging doubts about web enabled, crowd-sourcing's ability to address the sensitive and future forward competitive items; even in a semi open system that might promise some degree of anonymity, none the less in a more open forum where identity is visible/or could be discoverable. I mean really, if Citizen X does truly know something of significant import, why would he or she share/post this knowledge anywhere there would be an e-trail right back to him/her? Sounds like a formal invitation to litigation.

Further, what is the general population really going to know about a given competitor's intentions, real financial state, or what's happening inside the firm that might be competitively useful, etc? Where precisely would they come by this information and perspective? I mean, let's keep in mind we can't be talking about getting together a pool of insiders, ex employees or anyone with direct knowledge or meaningful HUMINT because these folks by virtue of the "too public" nature of crowd-sourcing not to mention NDAs aren't going to start blathering in a nonsecure or open forum, NO WAY unless they have a complete lack of sense.

That said, I could see how crowd-sourcing might address competitive items of a more tactical, current nature. Maybe user experience, pricing, service received, new features desired, company perception in a statistically meaningful manner.
I think there are some really fantastic applications of crowdsourcing for CI - even just looking at prediction markets we can see how information aggregation offers opportunities for companies to ask knowable questions and get pretty sophisticated observations from relatively less expert sources. I'll do more thinking on this and maybe we want to do a Friday teleconference on the topic - what do you think?
I agree this would be a good topic for an IntelCollab session, Arik. We need topics to intersperse with our intelligence WIKI meetings every other week these days.
Couldn't agree more! Looking at the calendar, how about June 11th? That's the next open Friday telecon slot. Ari, Monica and Ellen, would you like to be panelists?
I'm not sure where I'll be on June 11, as we're in the art show travel mode with an art show set up somewhere in the plans...what about having Seena as a panelist? She has a lot to share with all her wisdom and the research she put together to write her book!

It's perfect weather here in CO this memorial day!
Crowdsourcing sounds very appealing initially and does have value - in select situations. It has the ability to aggregate a wide array of diverse thinking, as discussed in the book, The Wisdom of Crowds. Similar to the value of focus groups, it may uncover an anomaly or new way of thinking.

The downside when used in business decisions is that it is likely to be based on opinion, not reality, facts, or a solid understanding of all the necessary components. This is where CI shows its value - in terms of methodology, scope, insights, and analysis.

Crowdsourcing may be a useful supplement to CI, but absolutely not a replacement. I discuss this in my CI book along with the related topic of groupthink. I disagree with the definition as outsourcing; I believe it's closer to collaboration and input from a large group, as exemplified by Wikipedia.
Seena makes a superb point in her second paragraph and she is spot on. I agree completely.
She also makes another terrific point in her third paragraph as it relates to outsourcing, and an operational definition of "crowdsourcing".

Arik, sure would be great fun to be a panelist and I would enjoy hearing everyone's thoughts on this topic.

A closing note:

I wonder how many of you are aware of what is starting to be known as the "Listening Platform/Brand monitoring" Market and associated technologies? In a nutshell, its about aggregating the opinions, perspectives of large groups on the web, classifying the sentiment expressed and so forth to drive marketing strategy, PR response, and in some cases NPD. Vendors like Radian 6, TNS Cymphony, Nielsen Buzzmetrics, Biz360,Visible Technologies are vendors who play in the space. The market is in its infancy, and the sentiment analysis isn't very accurate yet, nor the analytics very robust on the "listening platform" side, they are better on the brand monitoring side (ie reach, number of mentions) - but I think this is a prime example of "crowdsourcing."
Great Monica - you're now a panelist! Thanks for volunteering! Anybody else? We have a few slots left.

I have watched of the market you mention in closing very casually for the past few years but agree there's a lot of potential in sentiment analysis. Neat stuff!
I'm glad to see that crowdsourcing caught the Group's interest. I would be available on 25 June for the panelist role.

Great ideas presented already. Another idea worth considering would be to structure the talk around a few specific existing applications of crowdsourcing and the various features of crowdsourcing that they exhibit. E.g. there are consultant websites that provide "live experts" on a task-by-task basis. I guess they are more fact-based than opinion-based applications. Then someone could present a more opinion-based application (to which Seena referred in her comment). Etc... And then the CI-implications of all of these could be discussed.

Take-aways from the session would be knowledge about a few specific applications (without vendor-bias) and how they relate to e.g, the questions that I presented in my original post. Maybe the outcome of the session could later be written into a wiki-article.
Hi Ari - thanks for starting the discussion! How about June 11?
Hey Arik,

Yes, could we have the details on when you would like to hold this? It will be great!
We usually try for 10:30 eastern however I've been in touch with Ari (who started this discussion) and he can't join on the 11th so we have a couple of options. We could either go for a later date - I'd suggest the 25th -OR- we could divide the discussion into two parts - the first on the 11th and the second on the 25th.

We've done this a couple of times now (and have a running telecon like this with the wiki project) that seems to work well.

What do you think? My inclination is to schedule two of them two weeks apart and those who can't attend both can catch up with the recording.


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