Peers vs Crowds

Language matters. It frames our expectations and can limit or expand our thinking. I’ve written before about my preference for the term “peerfunding” over “crowdfunding”. More recently I’ve begun to see a spectrum of activities which can be more crowd or peer-focused, making both terms relevant but the distinction important.

To me, crowdsourcing is a competitive process – the crowd is either helping select amongst alternatives or competing to win an award. As an example, GeniusRocket is a design crowdsourcing site – their community competes via the submission of ideas and proposals, to have their work selected and be paid by GeniusRocket’s clients.

The Pepsi Refresh Project is another example of the crowd in action. The crowd is helping Pepsi select where to invest its philanthropic dollars. It’s crowdsourcing because it’s a large mass of people who have little-to-no contact with each other making submissions, in the form of votes here and designs with GeniusRocket, to the organizer of the contest.

What Creating the Future is doing, on the other hand, is peersourcing. They have invited their community to co-create the criteria and process of the scholarship fund they recently raised funds for on StartSomeGood.

In this instance the participants are not an anonymous “crowd” and they are not competing with each other. Instead they are co-creating something together. They are peers, colleagues, collaborators. Whilst the number of responses isn’t large the quality of thinking behind the responses makes them enormously valuable.

If we simply refer to Pepsi Refresh, GeniusRocket and what Creating The Future are doing as “crowdsourcing” I think we are missing a key differentiator between them. I am loath to create more jargon but I fear that calling collaborative efforts like Creating The Future, or the way Beth Kanter aggregates contributions and best practices through wiki’s, Facebook and her blog crowdsourcing is to miss the most important aspect of these approaches: that they build a community of peers and invite co-creation, rather than setting up the “crowd” to compete for the organizers favor.

I believe what we and our ventures do at StartSomeGood is peerfunding rather than crowdfunding. On StartSomeGood, as with other fundraising platforms for entrepreneurs and creatives, the majority of the funding comes from the fundraisers existing community. Supporters feel an affiliation for the project and affection for the organizer, or connect to the cause via a shared identity or experience. These funders are not a crowd, they are peers, and they will be your most important asset in creating change.

I’m thrilled to see a project which was successfully peerfunded on StartSomeGood now move on to peersourcing the details of how the scholarship will work. Check out their thinking so far and feel free to contribute!