Brains Trust

Why has Australia become a global crowdsourcing hub?

- December 8, 2014 2 MIN READ

Crowdsourcing, for those that don’t know, is the process of outsourcing a task (such as logo design or writing of an article) to a large group of people (‘the crowd’) to harness the intelligence, creativity or man-power of many people rather than just one. Wikipedia and Youtube are great, mainstream examples of websites that leverage the crowd. Few people however would realise that Australia has established itself as a global crowdsourcing hub with a number of the world’s biggest crowdsourcing platforms based downunder.

Australia’s global crowdsourcing hub was first identified in 2010 by Australian futurist Ross Dawson when he observed a number of emerging Aussie crowdsourcing startups (including Freelancer and DesignCrowd – a site that I operate) were taking on the world.

Since then, Australia’s crowdsourcing hub has grown and boasts among its ranks Kaggle, Redbubble and Envato and other upstarts like Expert360, Airtasker, Imagebrief and Flightfox. A number of these businesses have been expanding globally and raising capital – Kaggle has raised $11 million, my own business, DesignCrowd, which started ‘out of the garage’ has raised $6 million of venture capital and Freelancer recently IPO’d making it one of the first crowdsourcing businesses in the world to go public.

So, forget the mining boom, Australia is experiencing a crowdsourcing boom. While modest in scale, this crowdsourcing boom (along with other tech success stories) is good for Australia. Innovations like crowdsourcing are creating jobs, attracting investment and growing our economy through exports.

One question people often ask me is ‘why does Australia have so many crowdsourcing sites?’

One school of thought is that crowdsourcing (which is based on the principle that a good idea, expertise or talent can come from anywhere and anyone) appeals to Australia’s egalitarian culture and love of the underdog. This could be why Australians entrepreneurs, brands (like Qantas and Vegemite) and politicians (see KRUDD’s t-shirt design) have embraced crowdsourcing.

Australia’s history with crowdsourcing goes back 100 years. In 1901, the Australian flag was crowdsourced via an international ’Federal Flag’ design contest, launched by Prime Minister Edmund Barton. The contest received over 30,000 designs and five winners shared in ₤200 prize money.

In 1956, the NSW government launched an ‘International competition for a national opera house at Bennelong Point, Sydney’, which led to the construction of the Sydney Opera House, a celebrated global icon of modern architecture.

But the question of “why has Australia become a global crowdsourcing hub?” is somewhat academic.

In my opinion, Australia’s crowdsourcing hub is not a case of Australia punching above its weight but a case of Australia realising its potential in tech.

The more important question is “how can we grow Australia’s crowdsourcing hub further?  How can we create other tech hubs in Australia?”

Perhaps, in the future, Flight Centre will be replaced by Flightfox, trips to the dry cleaners will be replaced by a few clicks on Airtasker and by 2050, our politicians will be crowdsourcing legislation (or at least a new flag) rather than just t-shirt designs.

Perhaps one day, Australia’s economic growth will be driven by innovations like crowdsourcing rather than resources, mining and financial services. This should this should not be a case of “we can only hope” but a case of “let’s make it happen”.

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