Wired Pursuits

Archive for November 2010

Part of the reason I decided to go back to get my PhD was to study how social media was changing how businesses connect with customers and build brands. I’m currently focusing on “crowdsourcing.” Crowdsourcing is basically an open call to the “crowd” to participate in an activity typically completed by employees or paid consultant/contractor.

There are tons of different types of crowdsourcing sites and researchers are only beginning to examine the different uses of the crowd.  I wrote a post about the crowdsourcing site eBird a while back. Here’s another example of a crowdsourced site. This one for crowdsourced software development.

TopCoder.com connects companies with programmers in the crowd to collectively build complex programs.

Here’s how it works:

  • Clients specify requirements, timelines, and budgets and the crowd competes to see who can produce the best code in the allotted timeframe.
  • Qualified reviewers evaluate weekly submissions, scores are posted for everyone to see, and a winner is selected.
  • After all modules are complete, a new contest is held to assemble the modules into the final program.
  • Winners are paid a pre-defined fee and coders in second place receive half the amount of the winner.
  • Winners turn over code (and all rights to it) to the paying company.

You’d think that throwing out a programming challenge to an undefined group of people without set standards or guidelines would result in pretty “iffy” code. But, what’s interesting is that TopCoder code actually exceeds the industry standard for quality. TopCoder reports an average of .98 errors per 1000 lines of code, compared to the industry average of 6 per 1000.

TopCoder manages to create complex programs in less time, at less cost, and at a higher quality than typical of internal development teams. Is this the end of internal software development teams?

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