The Second-Best Swordsman; What GeniusRocket Is Doing Wrong

9 May

I’m not gonna beat around the bush with this one, kids. The ad-production company GeniusRocket claims to be a crowdsourcing agency, but they suck and you shouldn’t use them. Today’s lesson is about what crowdsourcing isn’t.

GeniusRocket - The First Curated Crowdsourcing Company

What crowdsourcing isn’t: Exhibit A

Cruise on up to that “What Is Crowdsourcing” tab at the top of the page, and scope the second paragraph. “Crowdsourcing involves taking a task that would ordinarily be completed by a hired individual or group, and instead hosting an open call for whoever wants to work on the task to do so.” GeniusRocket drops the ball right off the bat by using a “curated crowd“. From the site’s Community page:

“Every member of our community is vetted for their experience and expertise. As a result you won’t find amateurs or students. In other words, you won’t find people in our community that are trying break into the business by working on a client’s project.”

Red flags right there. By having such a stringent process for being a part of their crowd, GeniusRocket essentially takes away everything that makes a crowd a useful thing. This is a difficult concept to wrap one’s head around, but it’s called the Diversity Trumps Ability Theorem and it basically states that a varied group will outperform a group of experts every time. Mark Twain explained it best, if you’re willing to accept metaphor:

“The best swordsman in the world doesn’t need to fear the second best swordsman in the world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn’t do the thing he ought to do, and so the expert isn’t prepared for him.”

A group of experts, with the same talents, same education, and similar backgrounds, will always come up with the same ideas that they’ve been coming up with forever. A diverse crowd will offer a multitude of perspectives, which more often than not leads to breakthroughs and inspiration you simply won’t get from a homogenized group of professionals that have done the same thing, the same way, for their whole lives.

Pictured: Not The Crowd You Want Helping You

As a result, you’ve got a company that wants to have the advantages of crowdsourcing but is afraid of the risks, so the service they offer is simply the illusion of crowdsourcing. You’ll get varied ideas from different perspectives, if your definition of “varied” and “different” is actually “same as it’s always been”. And you don’t have to take my word for it; watch some of their ads. They’re terrible, pointless, or disturbing at worse and average at best.

Now, the platform is salvageable, but they need to make some big changes. Namely, they need to realize that by definition of both terms, there can be no such thing as a “crowdsourcing agency”. So hey, GeniusRocket execs, if you’re reading this: shoot me an email. Something has to change at your company and I’d like to help you with it instead of bitching about it on the Internet.


8 Responses to “The Second-Best Swordsman; What GeniusRocket Is Doing Wrong”

  1. Nancy Bowman (@BowmanNancy) May 10, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    Zooppa goes out of its way to partner with film schools and universities (just added AFI and the University of Texas!) and currently has 150,000 contributors from around the globe.

    • Seth W May 10, 2012 at 11:57 am #

      Sounds like they’ve got the right idea! You should post some of your favorite videos they’ve created here

  2. Peter LaMotte (@PeterLaMotte) May 10, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

    Wow. Well that is something. To your point last I would be happy to talk to you about our model. However there is something that I think is important to point out. We used to be an “open” crowdsourcing platform. We know the benefits of both open and closed models. We surveyed our clients AND our creatives and they both preferred moving to a closed / curated model. I would be the first to tell you that we are not a crowdsourcing platform in the true sense of the word. Crowdsourcing only makes up about 40% of our creative process. I spoke to Jeff Howe about this last year and he will be the first to tell you that once you limit a crowd in any way that technically isn’t crowdsourcing. So we state it as “curated crowdsourcing”. What I think is interesting about our model is that most of the open platforms in our space are now offering curated models. They limit who can participate just like we do. In fact if you look at just about any established crowdsourcing platform that is generating brand related content they have some level of curation. But here what I think you may find interesting. All but two of the ads that you disliked so much were created in 100% fully open to all contests in our old model. And one of those two was curated from our open community, the students and amateurs. Like I said, feel free to reach out to me, I would be happy to tell you how we came to our model, why clients prefer it (for what it is), and why crowdsourcing in a skill based ecosystem needs curation.

    Peter LaMotte

    • Peter LaMotte (@PeterLaMotte) May 10, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

      Oh for the sake spots that have actually been created through the “curated” model. Here are two recent ones.

      For Online:
      For TV:

    • Seth W May 10, 2012 at 3:30 pm #

      “Wow” is right! I did not actually expect this to get any higher-up traction. Thank you, first of all, for taking the time out of your day to read my blog and respond to my concerns. Despite the issues I have with your business practices, I’ll readily concede that your response to my admittedly vitriolic rant shows commendable character. I was in a bit of a rotten mood when I wrote this; I’m glad you’re not too offended.

      On to the issues. Jeff Howe is one of my primary sources of inspiration, so I’m glad you’ve addressed this with him. Additionally, I am reassured by the fact that you are aware of what separates your model from “traditional” crowdsourcing methods. I myself was not aware that your company started as a non-curated platform, so I would be especially interested in hearing the details of how that system worked and the issues you noticed that inspired you to switch.

      I’d also like to know a little more about your curated system. Who are the curators? Your team, the clients, the professionals, the audience? I suppose my main issue is that I feel like using the term “crowdsourcing” to describe your process obscures its meaning. Similar to how “pop psychology” isn’t really psychology, but people will take it as such because it has the word “psychology” right there.

      Regarding the ads themselves… even the ones you showed me below, I wasn’t particularly impressed with. The dubstep one I had seen before, but simply felt overextended and meaningless. The Sylvan one looked like anything else I’d see on TV, which is great if that was what you were going for but not-so-great if you’re trying to Don Draper an ad that will actually make someone feel something. Compare these ads to something like; there still exist lackluster videos on this site, but the top 10% of submissions are material you simply could not get through a traditional, or even curated, process.

      I eagerly anticipate your reply.

      Seth W

      PS: this conversation is one of the top 3 coolest things that has happened to me because of Tiny Work. Just thought I’d mention.

      • Peter LaMotte (@PeterLaMotte) May 10, 2012 at 4:01 pm #

        Seth, tell you what, why come over to our office, since you are in DC just ride the red-line to Bethesda and stop by. I can walk you through our model, all the work we have done, and what we have done that I can’t show on our site.

        To your point, I agree, that if you look at any open crowdsourcing platform you will find gems. Thats the law of averages. But that is a site in aggregate, not project by project. But I think there is reason that many companies including poptent are pushing towards a curated model. Its about control and privacy. Our model is focused on creating a brand-safe, private approach to production that delivers consistant quality. We are trying to serve a very specific need of marketers. Most brand managers aren’t looking to “swing for the fences” every time, they want a quality video that addresses a specific market. The VW “Vader” ads, or the Eminem Chrysler ad cost millions of dollars to produce and are best done by big agencies, IMHO. For AudioTechnica, they wanted views, they received over a million in less than two months, and sales went up. Sylvan wanted an a direct response ad that would speak to Moms, thats exactly what they got, and sales went up. When you always try to “swing for the fences” and let the crowd take it on, you don’t have to worry about the 10% you mentioned, you have to worry about the 90% you don’t want anyone to see. That is why the creative marketplace works well for both open and curated models. We don’t have an open version of our model, because our teams wouldn’t participate in a contest where they have at best a 10% chance of getting paid.

        Hope that helps.

        As for taking the time to respond, sure I may have chosen other words besides “they suck” but I can handle it. Criticism of our contest model was one of the main reasons we changed our model in the first place. And in the end I am happy to talk to someone who is clearly as passionate about crowdsourcing as I am. Just don’t mind the typos when I respond quickly, I type faster than my internal spell checker. 🙂

        • Seth W May 10, 2012 at 7:34 pm #

          Thank you for your invitation! It would be a real treat to see your offices and have a face-to-face conversation with you. I’ll email you and we’ll work out a date.


  1. Peter LaMotte Clears The Air About GeniusRocket at TEDxWDC « Tiny Work - July 10, 2012

    […] of you may remember my less-than-kind critique of GeniusRocket a little while back. Peter LaMotte, the president of the company, was so kind as to […]

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