Crowdsourcing the winning National Lottery numbers

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Image by seyahmas via Flickr

Last Wednesday, illusionist, Derren Brown, correctly predicted the winning number in the National Lottery live on air. Quite a feat. But one he achieved with 100% accuracy.

Between the Wednesday live prediction and the Friday explanation, social media sites were awash with theories and conspiracies explaining what had happened. From discussions on Twitter to videos on YouTube. Most of these suggested a slight-of-hand or other such trick. The real answer was much more interesting. Brown cited ‘crowdsourcing’ as the magic behind his impressive prediction.

The explanation was actually quite simple, at least on face value. He got 24 people to collectively predict the numbers using crowdsourcing, The Wisdom of Crowds.  The theory that together people can more accurately resolve a problem or reach a decision when working as a group than when operating alone. Whether you believe this explanation or not (and there are certainly those who are sceptics), the use of crowdsourcing in this mass-media entertainment show highlights the widespread understanding and acceptance of this tool.

We’ve written before about the power of co-creation for businesses and how working with your customers to crowdsource new products and ideas for your organisation can produce better ideas and better products than you might have developed internally. From creating t-shirts (in the case of Threadless), encyclopedias (in the case of Wikipedia) or maps (in the case of OpenStreetMap), using crowds to solve problems has proven to be very successful. In a business-environment it can be incredibly effective.

The most intelligent people probably don’t work in your firm, and so if you can find them and let them work  with you to solve a problem you will often get the kind of innovation that you just can’t get internally. This is where online communities such as Innocentive come to the fore. They allow companies to ask the community to solve a specific problem or issue and reward them (in this case financially). Community product design is used in such cases to provide extra support and input either when internal resources don’t have  the time or the ability to solve the problem.

So whether Derren Brown’s crowdsourcing explanation holds water or not, it is clear that  there is a lot you can do when you get people to work together in a community to solve a problem.

If you missed the show, then you can watch it (at least in the UK) on 4OD.

SideTaker - crowdsource your private life

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A couple of weeks ago we looked at some examples of co-creation including community product design. This approach often involves harnessing the ‘wisdom of crowds’ (or crowdsourcing as it’s know). We wrote about the case of t-shirt design and manufacturer, Threadless, which is often cited as an example of crowdsourcing. Today I came across a site that is also based on this wisdom of crowds philosophy, but one that uses it to solve more personal problems than business ones.

SideTaker presents two sides of a situation and then asks the ‘crowd’ to suggest what steps they should take or to vote on who they think is in the right. The case below is typical. She enjoys spending money and thinks it unfair that he doesn’t like her doing this; he thinks that she has no appreciation of the value of money. They then allow the unknown crowd of people to suggest how they might resolve this.

This is a great example of crowdsourcing in action. People have a problem they can’t solve themselves and so they look for a wider selection of people to make suggestions based on their experiences, expertise and knowledge. In the same way that Dell’s IdeaStorm and Starbuck’s MrStarbucksIdea make use of external expertise to solve business problems, so SideTaker does for personal problems.

The principal of crowdsourcing is sound. Online communities of people are able to come together to solve problems. They each bring their own expertise and experiences and their own opinions on a subject. The online environment enables them to collaborate, to make suggestions and to develop ideas and responses with each other over time.

The same reasons that people are able to cocreate and innovate online in this way mean that this is also a vibrant and powerful resource for research. Over the next few days we are going to be looking at how people can collaborate in online research communities to bring insights for brands and to solve problems.

  • Co-creation 5: Community product design
  • Name This: The Crowdsourced Naming Agency
  • Wisdom of crowds - a puzzle