The Power Of The New Crowdsource? The Evolution Of Online Help

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Crowdsourcing as we know it today is a terrible thing. It basically boils down to clients asking several, even hundreds of freelancers, to provide spec work in the hopes of getting their product chosen and getting paid.

No other industry I can think of does this, and is something that plagues the professional freelancers, as their work becomes devalued, especially if they participate.

But I’ve discovered something new. Something I think is revolutionary and possibly the most helpful thing for designers and coders alike – I’ve found the 21st century of crowdsourcing – and it doesn’t hurt us or the industry, nor does it involve clients.

The Evolution Of Online Help

I’ve been coding for well over 10 years now, ever since middle school. Back then, whenever I needed help, I would have to figure it out myself. There were no wikis, blogs or even Google (at least not the Google of today). There were books, but that was about it.

Then came forums, where you could post your code or design critiques on there and wait forever for a response. Then you’d have to wade through the trolls to find something constructive.

The came Google and blogs. Now, finding help was as simple as searching for it. However, even then it required extensive searching and wading through comments and blog posts, while trying 30 different “solutions” until you found one that worked.

While Google is still my favorite way to find help or plugins, it doesn’t help if the problem pertains to your site only. Of course you could always post your question on sites like StackOverflow, Codesnipp.it, Forrst or WP Questions, but what if there was an easier, quicker way to find help?

Then I made a discovery.

The New Crowdsource

The new crowdsource can help us with our problems. Instead of clients crowdsourcing designers and developers for free work – we turn it around. We crowdsource ourselves for solutions to our problems.

For example, the other day I had to code up something for a very large client. It used the best in CSS3 and HTML5 and worked wonders. Then they asked me to implement it inside of their site template. That’s where the troubles began.

First, because of the way their site was coded, there were layout issues. Those were easy enough to fix on my own. But then, none of the javascript worked, and it wasn’t throwing any errors! I’m by no means a javascript expert, it was 8:30 in the evening and I wanted to get this project done now.

So what did I do? I simply tweeted:

Any CSS/JS pros online right now that wouldn’t mind helping me with a super secret project?

In less than two minutes I had more than 10 answers. In less than ten minutes, my issue was fixed by someone who caught an !important rule blocking the JS from working.

The Power Of Twitter

In no other social medium, can you find help almost instantly. Several sites meant for help try to do this, but fail. There’s always millions of people on Twitter no matter what time of day it is. By sending out a tweet to thousands for help, you’ve just crowdsourced.

In the days of little to no patience, this is a wonderful discovery. I’ve now been able to find solutions to several of my coding issues in a matter of minutes, when it would’ve taken me hours to figure out. It always just takes an extra pair of eyes.

And the cool thing is, we don’t mind helping ourselves. We’re always so interested in others’ design or coding problems, that we’re quick to jump in and volunteer our free time. Shoot, so many people simply wanted to help just to see the secret project I was working on.

This goes to show how awesome the design community is. Can you imagine a lawyer or doctor trying to get free help from others? The design and development community is unique in the fact that we’re all so friendly and helpful to each other. Couple that with instant communication through Twitter, and you have yourself a huge crowdsourcing medium.

Use This Wisely

Of course, as to everything there are rules and etiquette. If you’re constantly asking for help several times every day, eventually people are going to start to ignore you. Only ask when you really, really need the help.

Also, make sure you thank everyone for the help, even those people who offered to help after you’d already fixed the problem. No one likes an ungrateful designer or coder. Thanking them ensures their tweet was heard and you appreciated it, whether they helped or not.

Your Thoughts

What do you think about this new kind of crowdsourcing? Can this be called crowdsourcing?

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19 thoughts on “The Power Of The New Crowdsource? The Evolution Of Online Help

  1. Loved the story! I am one of those who need help with strange (to me) issues and scour the web for hours and hours and hours. My first find usually has to do with how I should present the issue, or what keyword I should Google. Then forums are very slow as you said, but they are out there. You don’t always have time to develop a “relationship” with users that could make it OK to ask.

    Now, Twitter? That’s awesome! Did you only stay on Twitter or did you migrate to another messaging platform when you got a response and started working the issue? How did you share the code snippets, etc?

    Yep, etiquette is so very important, yet too many code gurus seem to lack the humility to simply help out, while others simply tell you to read the manual, etc.

    Thank you for the useful and clearly articulated tip!

    Andre
    http://www.creativeforge.org

  2. I’m fairly new to Twitter, but don’t you need to have those millions of people following you in the first place, just to “hear” your tweet?

  3. Yes and no. Some of the issues I’ve had have been a lot longer than a two second reply. I’ve had some of my colleagues help me for several hours on an issue, so it was like they were working for free.

  4. I think Wes Wilson is right, what you’re describing is simply networking with fellow professionals who are happy to help because it’s a challenge and there’s a degree of proessional courtesy when it comes to helping a fellow creaitve not because they’re going to get paid.

    I’ve used the power of tweeting about a problem and found that you get awesome results if you’re a well connected designer/dev with a lot of followers but probably crowdsourcing is a bit wide of the mark.

  5. The idea of looking to Twitter for help on problems is a good one. I see questions from other designers and developers come up on my feed all of the time. If I have some information to help my colleagues out I gladly forfeit it. I don’t know that I would call this crowdsourcing though. Mostly for the negative connotation already associated with the term but also because of the lack of false hope included with a crowdsourcing project.

    One caution that I would add to this post is that this luxury is not an overnight process. Being able to post a problem on Twitter and receive help in a timely manner is not an option for everyone. As with many communities your rate of success will grow with your participation.

    Amber has 3,000 followers that didn’t sign up last night. Her writing for all sorts of blogs and productive involvement with the community have earned her the ability to call upon the masses for some assistance if you will.

    Calling for help on Twitter is something that will work better for those who have been there to provide help in the past.

  6. It depends on the guy. You may be just another developer/designer on Twitter. Someone that not a lot of people are interested in following. If you don’t build a circle of good friends that follow you to share thoughts and other stuff, you ain’t getting help from Twitter. Anyway, nice article!

  7. Obviously I am biased, but I think the healthiest way to move forward is through lining up experts to help you, but also ensuring they get some of your income. Take us, as an example. The day we started, someone wrote, “Why should I pay you when I can just post my question to Twitter?” Despite that critique, people have given us $14,000. Apparently some people can not get the help they need from Twitter, and they would rather pay us instead.

    You point to our site http://www.wpquestions.com/ but we are rolling our software out to the public. What we have done for WordPress, you could do for design, or for photography, or for Adobe products, or for Microsoft technologies, or for any other subject that you can think of. I urge people to think about different ways they could use our software. We lack the marketing dollars to develop a site like WPQuestions.com for every niche, but we hope others will move forward with our software.

  8. I wouldn’t call it crowdsourcing. This form of community assistance has been around for decades, and simply morphs and adapts to the changing technological landscape. Many still working in the field likely remember the old Compuserv days, from which the modern day mailing lists and forums were born. People have been helping people socially for as long as people have existed. What keeps us apart from the monkeys is that we continue to invent and improve our tools over time.

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