About Me

Crowdsourcing: A Definition

  • I like to use two definitions for crowdsourcing:

    The White Paper Version: Crowdsourcing is the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.

    The Soundbyte Version: The application of Open Source principles to fields outside of software.

The Rise of Crowdsourcing

  • Read the original article about crowdsourcing, published in the June, 2006 issue of Wired Magazine.
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November 14, 2006



Congratulation Shaz great collaboration with and an interesting interview. It’s nice to have the pics. The comment from Lise Gagné, “some photographers have criticized me because very big companies like IBM are using my photos in campaigns and they’re only paying a few dollars, but I’m always happy to see my work being used,” stood out for me. She appears to be moving the onus from institutions that might still working with the traditional business model, to her personal satisfaction with emphasis on the artistic process and satisfaction with the arrangement regarding minimal payment for work provided. What sort of framework/understanding might be needed to make the variances between these two points of view reconcilable? Are they? It’s obvious that we are in the beginning stages of a huge metamorphosis as the crowd gain increased access. Is this just a let the dust settle thing or can one come to grips with the more difficult issues like unions, loss of income for the traditionalists and the temptation for institutions to take advantage with a possible cut in quality, the new Gannet model and the difference between trained journalists and novice reporters. Is the economic bottom line going to be the engine that drives the process as crowdsourcing unfolds? Alan.


Thanks, Jeff!
And thanks to you, Alan, for your thoughtful comments and questions.
I had a related discussion with some of my college students on Tuesday. I asked one student to assume the role of a traditional fine art photographer, and another assumed the role of Lise -- a thought-provoking session ensued with healthy debate about pros, cons, risks, issues, upsides, downsides, pricing models, copyright, visual homogeneity, creativity, democracy, etc. etc. etc. Good stuff.

I agree that this is but one sign of an important shift we're experiencing in commerce - many acknowledge that a pendulum has certainly swung away from corporate control of content to creator control. (When I tell my students that - in the old days - I used to have to PAY to get a stock photo CATALOGUE they are quite dumbfounded!) Yet the monetized distribution systems of this content still seem to be (eventually) aggregating back up to the larger corporations. You ask, "What framework can manage these seemingly disparate valuation systems?" I'm not sure, though I think *Hugh Macleod* over at may have some worthy thoughts in his Hughtrain and Global Microbrand writings.

There are some interesting issues that I've seen raised in the discussion around crowdsourcing, such as:
- Does something have to have a price to be valuable?
- Is professional talent inherently superior to amateur talent -- if the only criterion for being called professional is that you're paid (or you have paid handsomely for an official education/designation)?
- Why would someone work for free? (My finance friends are stumped by this one :-) I often consult pro bono - good karma!)
- Does the "self-selection/volunteer" angle when performing crowdsourcing for low pay necessarily mean the worker is still not exploited? (Remember that some crowdsourcing work is also relatively well paid. Is it the model we dislike or the payscale?)



Thanks for the thoughtful response Shazz. You had to PAY! I know that my soon to be college aged offspring would also fall over with such a preposterous idea.
Value and price, in my mind are not necessarily connected. Look at taxes and inner city education today. Or to play devils advocate, after having been forced into a legal process to get an appropriate education for one of my kids, a top Chicago Special Education lawyer, who cost an arm and a leg for two one hour meetings, forced a rapid return that was certainly very well worth the one-time hemorrhaging expenditure. A legal aid or volunteer might not have been so successful.
Professional talent need not be superior but work experience in any particular field brings with it valuable and a specifically focused skill set.
I love the good karma attitude. On a more serious note if there is an organic, can I say karmic, relationship to ones vocation then the almighty $$ slips more easily from its prominence on the must have list. I spent many years doing what I loved to do before I realized - - - - - but isn’t that just what young people do?
The “exploited” question would require such a lengthy response; suffice it to say unions today are being busted whilst institutionalized pensions are going to become a thing of the past. I might willingly volunteer my time but who has responsibility for policy development and implementation that affects the masses? Exploitation is all about conscious, organized manipulation for economic gain. The onus is on employers.
It is not a question of like or dislike but rather how is our culture being shaped, by whom and for what reason. Isn’t that a rhetorical question? Gannet might be an early example once the truth hits the fan! The individual has self determination/freedom to choose whilst the institution has moral obligation to those under its guardianship! Or is that just plain old fashioned?
Regards, Alan

Bruce Livingstone

It's ironic that Lise lives in an old ice factory. It doesn't really have much to do with crowdsourcing, but does demonstrate the demise of an industry replaced by advancing technology, millions of home and industrial refrigeration units and a willingness to embrace those products. I believe we're witnessing a similar transformation of the environment and opportunity in digital arts. Accessible and inexpensive equipment, instant access to educational resources, and a willingness or creative motivation have all played a role in what I believe is a digital renaissance. The discussion about the value of people, or even a picture, is dubious. A picture in a sea of billions, is less valuable than the one which reaches its ideal audience. It's the relationships we have with artists like Lise that are valuable.

Lise is the iStockphoto Powerhouse, Diva and mentor to thousands. I'm very proud of her and what she's accomplished.


Thanks Alan and Bruce for your comments. Interesting analogy Bruce [iStock's founder] presents; will we (one day) look at traditional distribution models in the digital arts much like my father reminisces about the ice vendor who used to trundle up and down the streets of Montreal with a horse and cart, selling ice from these factories to homes and businesses? Probably.

I fully agree that "value" has a much broader meaning than the price/pay aspect that gets rehashed without sufficient consideration of the other perspectives, such as those raised above. While fair payment for work done is certainly of critical importance, it is not the only form of value we must consider. And as Alan says above, the significant labour/rights/power/etc. issues arising from this trend are far-reaching and cannot be fully discussed in short form.

The question of like/dislike (payscale or model) that I raised above is not rhetorical in my view. It is useful when analysing any system to use a reduction method whereby one hypothetically removes (or radically alters) a (seemingly) important aspect of the system and then re-evaluates it. By radically altering various aspects of the crowdsourcing model (pay, control, distribution control, copyright, skill level, etc.) and reconsidering the model anew, one can focus in on what aspects of crowdsourcing make some people claim "freedom" while others claim "exploitation."

With all this said, it does remain that Lise is an extraordinary person, whom I hope to meet in person one day. Very inspiring.

Jeff Greenberg

Thanks to Lise G. for locking into "microstock pricing" 100% & therefore not competing as fully with "macrostock pricing" shooters.

Bryan Zmijewski

While I like the concept of crowdsourcing, I think Bruce captures the essence of why Lise has been successful with stock photography. It's less about a business model and more about the relationship.

Lise isn't averse to risk --in fact, I'd be willing to bet that she really *enjoys* shooting photos, while she continues to learn and gives back to the community by reviewing *other* people's work. iStockPhoto is the missing ingredient for Lise- it's the venue in which all of these pieces come together- it's validation. Most people spend their lives searching for fulfillment. Microstock gives people an opportunity to discover pieces of themselves they've not been allowed to explore in their day jobs. Surely this is not all about money- but at 30 cents a pop it's a public validation of their talent. I call this soul-tapping --when we help people combine their passions and talents in a way that personally and publicly nourishes that part of their personality/soul/life.

Che McPherson

WOW... what a nice read thanks Shaz... Lise is definately a HUGE inspiration to me and I know many others... Hi5 for you Shaz and Hugs for Lise.


Great interview, finally I could read more about this well know photographer of the microstock community. She is for sure a truly source of inspiration for many fellow photographers.


Bryan, I think you have it dead right! The portal, iStockPhoto in this case, is well described as the magic element that gives the possibility of “binding” an individual’s professional and personal biography together thereby bringing, here are your words, “fulfillment, validation, nourishment” and last but not least “soul life” together. The reality that “most” cannot find fulfillment in their “day jobs” is the part that rubs me. Is it an indictment of an educational process that pressures kids who are still in the early stages of their formal education to choose career paths that they can only have an abstracted relationship to? And that also might possibly be the part that makes crowdsourcing a choice for many individuals. Notwithstanding that possibility though is still the reality that soul tapping comes with much responsibility! My hope is that the moral fiber of those who are doing the tapping reaches out front of the phenomena itself to provide healthy balance, $$$$, to both crowdsourcers and the parts of industry that cannot escaped the traditional model. Hope lives eternal. Alan.


@Bryan, thanks for the thoughtful comments. Lise is, as she says, "happy when she's taking photos" and working with/for the iStock community. The fact that she makes a good living at it is a bonus for her. Personal fulfillment and a creative outlet are her main drivers still.

@Che and Alex, glad you enjoyed the piece. She's a special person for sure.

@Alan, I agree that our whole "early career tracking" system is completely ineffective and sad. In addition to teaching college kids, I volunteer with Junior Achievement just so that I can get in front of grade 9 students and talk about the endless life/work possibilities that lay before them (and paid work is only part of the picture) ... you can feel the energy in the room rise as we dream out loud, together.

I believe we're all wired to be creative [artistic and otherwise] -- outlets like microstock and photosharing communities help us tap into that essential need.

Bryan Zmijewski

Alan and Shazz, my insights come from leading the troops at LuckyOliver, a new alternative to iStockphoto. I've spent the better part of five months setting the foundations for a community and my experiences have led me to the previous conclusions. In addition, I've spent the last 8 years helping over 60 start-ups deal with similar issues of attracting customers.

On the second point, I'm not sure it's really an issue of pressuring kids into a specific career track. In fact, I think it's quite the opposite. I wrote about a study in our blog:

Kids today don't get enough attention or guidance. There are plenty of options- there's just a lack of role-models to give kids direction.

Jeff Howe

@All commentators ...

Man, what a great thread! Thanks for giving Lise's interview such thoughtful consideration and teasing out the most provocative questions raised therein.

@Alan and Shazz

I'm particularly intrigued by Shazz's question regarding exploitation and how it relates to the question of volition. Simply, if I'm a volunteer can I be "exploited," in the sense we commonly ascribe to that term? I've come to the conclusion that we can, but with some qualifications. Alan asks, "Who has responsibility for policy development and implementation that affects the masses? Exploitation is all about conscious, organized manipulation for economic gain."

Alan's answer is the employer, and I'm won't to agree. In cases in which the contract between crowdsourcer and crowdsourcee is explicit I hold to my original position that any charge of exploitation is awfully hard to make stick. But the crowdsourcing model can easily be twisted to capitalize on community contributions that were made without any intent to create value for a commercial entity. (Any TV show poaching from Youtube for free amateur content would seem to be an apt example of this.) As crowdsourcing becomes more prevalent, I think individuals and communities as a collective entity need to be wary of whose pockets they may be lining.


Hey Jeff, thanks much for the comments and thoughts. I believe exploitation can happen in any form of "exchange" - paid or unpaid. Perhaps it's less to do with money and more to do with control and the locus of power. "Who owns the content?" will continue to be a lively debate going forward ... within a creative commons context and otherwise. Of course, this is not a new phenomenon. We know that, well before the Web increased access to and sale of creative works, there was a long history of the (re)sale of traditional/folk art not lining the original artists' pockets.

Perhaps the transparency enabled by the Web will continue to facilitate a more rapid and ongoing disaggregation of any emerging corporate marketplaces, turning the locus of control back to the creators again and again? (Hugh Macleod, Seth Godin and others have written elegantly about micro-biz consumer-driven markets.)

Daniel Bastille

My English is not good enought to fully understand all the subtleties there. Too much unusual thoughts and expressions.

Just want to land on the basic ground.

Lise is a professional. The very basic is a professional own his living by his work. In regards of this basic ground Lise IS a professional. The only one who's promoted as a sample of successful microstock shooter.

A professional who is competing with amateurs.
The vast majority of them owns not more than $200.00 a month with as much as 2 000 picts uploaded. (BTW: How much does she realy earns? Have she a retirement plan? Does she owne her house?)

A professionak who shows than Royalty Free content for livestyle is overpriced. Producing such a low creative picts on the production line is easy and cheap in regard of what could be creative and quality pictures. Would her landscape pictures be as marketable? Would her pictures display for a 3x4 billboard?

A question I have asked her: What she's thinking about the 400 million dollars Getty spent recently to buy iStock?
I know quite well two people, one is leading the economy in an European governement, the other one is leading a famous worldwide company, both of them got private lectures of a famous autor about wired economy at an astronomical price. Those who are "harnessed" are working for free while the smart guys behind are becoming millionaires.
Thus my question: How long this will last before the mass understand they are ripped off?

Enjoying to see his pictures published is part of is a mental desease called "narcissism". And Narcis didn't last very long, in ancien Greek mythology he's ends shortly by a suicide.

They'll be on earth even more narcissistics than Lise is. They'll soon give their picts for free, makin even more profit for the website's owners. (BTW, it's a good idea for a webdesigner, people could even pay to see their picts published, just include Google ads and you'll become soon millionaire. You may call it YouPict. This idea is for free).

Secular Atheist

I'm dumbfounded that anyone can think that its a good thing that big corporations can now obtain work for a few dollars that they might have had to pay a living wage for in the past.

Turkeys don't vote for Christmas... but you 'creatives' seem to be doing just that.

And thanks for posting the 'best selling photograph', I think it makes it quite clear just how much creativity and artistry we can expect from Crowdsourcing...

Daniel Bastille

How many Lise among microstock shooters? How many usual photographers had been so heavily promoted?
How many microstock displaying such professionaly shot pictures?
Is Lise in some way subsidised: art direction or money help...
For how long Lise won't shoot for RF, fully owned content RF, OnREquest picts and all the activities that dump their prpfession. Included quality dumping.
Is Lise real or is her a fake profile created for promotion?

QT Luong

The impressions that I have from reading the interview and viewing Lise's work is that she is a talented and creative photographer with a great sense of design, the subjects that she likes to photograph are always in great demand on the stock photography market, she loves what she does and is dedicated and hard working.

With all those attributes, I believe that Lise would have been sucessful in *any* stock photography venue, not just the microstocks. In fact, it is possible that she would have been even more successful with non-micro venues.

Lise is a "star". A star shines everywhere. However, what the concept of crowdsourcing does is precisely leverage the work of a crowd *without* need for stars, but rather by taking advantage of a large amount of tiny contributions.

PS: Sorry for the initial mistaken comment on Andy's blog that he was kind enough to delete. istockphoto has gone a long way since I checked them out years ago.

Non-micro Photographer

There is an elephant in this room that everyone seems to ignore. The value of images is not problematic, as has been presented, it is simply the value of a critical component in a marketing/advertising/publishing usage. For a large corporation using an image in a high profile manner, that value runs into thousands of dollars. As with all forms of exploitation, it's only a matter of time before the workforce gains awareness of their situation and asserts a measure of control over the value of their work. Crowdsourcing is a for-profit innovation, we are yet to see labour movement innovations to match. But the profits are being made now, and that's really all that matters. So kudos to the crowdsourcers. 'Never give a sucker an even break' still holds, thank goodness...


Go Lise, Go ! :-)


Thanks for the continued comments and visits to this interview.
@Non-micro photographer: the exploitation angle gets discussed a lot in the context of crowdsourcing and I appreciate your concern and pov. However, in Lise's case (and many others) they would say that, to the contrary, this model has given them freedom and control over their creative and professional lives, in a way that the traditional corporate employer-employee model never did. Many of my friends who earn their living in the world of art and illustration would say the same thing about the gallery-artist or agent-artist model. One wonders how rapidly these too will change.

As an update: in the two months since this interview was published, Lise has sold over 20,000 more images. As Didier says above, Go Lise, Go!

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