by Brian

CrowdSpring – A Writer’s Story

An old article I published about CrowdSpring places 4th in the results on Google for a search on “CrowdSpring” and as a result, I’ve received various stories from others that have had a bad experience with a design contest website.

This one is particularly interesting as it raises some important questions about the CrowdSpring business model, and their dictatorial style. Please take a few moments to read Kathleen’s story below.

I entered the world of crowd sourcing at crowdSPRING (cS) on July 13, 2010, with high hopes of a creative challenge participating in writing projects on a global playing field. I left it feeling used, cynical and disheartened after my account there was deactivated on September 2, 2010—the second time in just 52 days–for the heinous crime of questioning staff on project award anomalies and curious website glitches.

About halfway through this first sourcing stint of mine, I was selected for a project award on August 4th. Interestingly enough this boon occurred only a day after my first deactivation (I’d complained about several ignored e-mail queries, still never adequately answered). The timing was auspicious, but it served its purpose in nudging me to participate again once they chose to reactivate me. This time, however, I worked only on nonprofit or higher award projects.

It wasn’t long, though, before project completions and award methods continued to send up red flags and suspicions of fraudulent behavior on the part of the cS staff, the buyers or both. Writing projects—mainly naming companies/products, creating taglines—are sealed in such privacy at cS that fake projects, fake awardees (ringer accounts set up only as project awardees) and outright intellectual property theft can be easily executed. More than once I suggested to cS staff that greater transparency would be a better business model for them as it would help retain savvy and talented “creatives” [their term for worker bees] over longer periods if they can see what’s truly going on.

Before my final deactivation, I’d wisely gathered data on the projects I participated in. Out of my 13 projects that closed within those 52 days of activity, more than half were not awarded by project buyers but by staff itself creating a serious in-house bias issue. More than half of the 12 people actually awarded on these had joined cS less than two weeks before their respective projects ended, including myself. One winner had joined on July 25th while his/her project ended July 26th and then hasn’t participated again since.

I also gathered data on another five projects I worked on but that had not yet closed when my account was yanked—aggravating because I was confident I had a really good chance at an award on at least two of them but was not allowed to log in for any updates on status. I’d had the good sense to keep a record of each submission and relevant data to help me track and investigate any use of my entries and changes in domain ownerships. This proved fortuitous as, indeed, the buyer on a high-ticket company-/ domain-naming project selected my work for an award. So a month after King Bee autocrat and co-founder, Mike Samson, branded me an “inactive droid,” this worker bee collected one of the larger awards given on any comparable project.

What makes my “How Curiosity Killed the Kat at crowdSPRING” cautionary tale more compelling is the e-mail trail of exchanges between myself and staff revealing the cS personalities involved and showing how questions are either ignored or non-responsively answered and, ultimately, not tolerated. Two among those sent by Samson himself outright threatened to deny my recent award selection, and only pressure by the Chicago buyer on my behalf allowed an honest project completion. I was vigilant enough to protect myself with information and careful research, but clearly many, if not most, involved in crowd sourcing are taken advantage of and never see a penny for their efforts.

I correspond with another participant who was ripped off by cS, and I imagine there are dozens of similar stories from creative sourcing sites. I can’t speak to design projects at cS or to these other sites, but the heavy cloak of secrecy combined with a dictatorial business model that simply removes anyone who dares to question it, creates an ideal recipe for fraud at crowdSPRING.