Could designer bras be a natural fit for crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing companies are now coming into fashion…as of last week, even in the fashion world

With last week's launch of Fashion Stake, a crowdsource fashion company, I become even more convinced that crowdsourcing is not getting the attention it deserves. There are a number of startups implementing crowdsourcing in new ways and in new markets.

The initial crowdsourcing services are like on-line temp agencies, designed to facilitate a volume of transactions between employers and workers. Amazon Mechanical Turk and its competitor, Livework are the poster children. A newer competitor, txteagle is pretty much in the same business, but its back end is different and employs workers in third-world countries who don't have computers. How do they do it? No, not carrier pigeons. It turns out that a lot of people in Africa have cell phones. The business is the brainchild of Nathan Eagle, a young Stanford, MIT, Santa Fe Institute kinda guy who (while working in healthcare in Kenya three years ago) started a system of texting nurses to help manage blood supplies. txteagle expands the concept to a range of low skilled tasks that can be performed on a cell phone including translation, image tagging, video tagging, etc. Today txteagle employs workers across Africa, "empowering the largest knowledge workforce on earth."

Cloud Crowd, a 2009 entrant into the market, is different in that it employs highly skilled workers. The company targets higher value needs like doing research, formatting data, and writing or summarizing articles. Who knows, they might be writing this blog for me (no way!). Also, interestingly, at least for their beta, they use a Facebook app as the interface to workers, suggesting something about the demographic they are targeting.

One area that seems an obvious one for leveraging a higher skilled crowd is software testing. OK, I say obvious, but I didn't think of it. uTest did, though, it seems to have a great business with 20,000 QA professionals ready and waiting to test your web, desktop and mobile apps and games. Could your app dev group use these guys?

Marketers seem to be early adopters of crowdsourcing, so there are number of players targeting that segment. LogoTournament and 99 Designs are all about getting logos designed. With a stable of graphic designers on the back end, they enable their customers to run contests with the prize money going only to the designer who develops the best logo. Prizes are in the $100-600 range.

Affinova comes to the party with expertise in consumer choice modeling employing fancy stuff I learned about in grad school like conjoint analysis and genetic algorithms (they call it "Evolutionary Optimization"). They enable their customers to very rapidly test and evolve concepts with consumers. And, they have an impressive list of name brand clients including Pepsi, MillerCoors, P&G, Walmart and Kraft. Their workers are folks willing to be polled, though their process seems less open than that of others in the space and it's not clear how the back end works.

OK, back to our headline. Fashion Stake promises to "democratize fashion." Consumers will be able to vote for styles they like and actually invest in a designer with the payoff being credits for that designer's sexy, new products when they hit the market. And, believe it or not, Local Motors is taking the same sexy idea to the car industry. They use the term "open development" and say it's "sort of like open source." Want to participate in the design of and ultimately purchase a Boston Bullet or a Miami Roadster?...check them out!

Not sure about any of those ideas? Have a good business concept of your own? Well, in an interview with VentureFizz, Black Duck Software founder and former CEO Doug Levin thinks entrepreneurs should apply "the wisdom of the crowd" to refining business plans.

What wild and crazy crowdsourcing companies do you know about? Anyone have experience employing crowdsourcing?

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