The Internet has powered the rise of a new creative class. Global reach, real-time feedback, and reputation building have redefined the creator. Today, the Instagram-wielding teen is as much a member of this burgeoning creative class as the National Geographic photographer, both catering to their respective niches. The audience is the message, and, increasingly, everyone is a creator.
We’re in the era of the Creator Web, when a platform’s worth is tied directly to its users’ contributions. The Creator Web moves the focus from the creation-first approach of crowdsourcing to a creator-first approach of actual content development. Today, the most vibrant creative systems—Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook—are the ones that put the creators ahead of the tasks themselves.
Increasingly businesses are sourcing non-repetitive, non-commoditized creative work on online work platforms. When we moved from outsourcing to crowdsourcing, we shifted our non-core work sourced from other firms to the general public. With the rise of the new creative class, the way we source work online is changing as well.
The first breed of work platforms was built around sourcing solutions to projects. The metrics for succeeding with such platforms was built around the "Just get the job done!" motto.
A new, emerging breed of work platforms is shifting the focus from the task focused to the creator, portfolio-focused approach. While oDesk and Elance currently power a growing freelancer economy, we believe that the future of creative freelancing lies with portfolio-centric platforms that allow users to gather reputation through peer reviews.
Here are four overriding principles to take advantage of the Creator Web:
The portfolio has long been the sales pitch for creators. While more commoditized tasks get solved through price bids, creators have always commanded the price that the portfolio allowed them to.
The current generation of work platforms like 99Designs and oDesk are designed around the task. A new interaction between job creators and seekers is centered around the task itself with the creator putting up a task and the seekers bidding for it. The portfolio isn't involved.
Online platforms will increasingly need to design around the portfolio. Led by examples like Dribbble and , creators invest in portfolio creation without a task focus. Peer recognition and self-expression serve as the primary motivators for participation. Platform incentives shift from potential fortune to accessible fun and fame.
Create a democratic platform focused on artistic or creative merit, not on a rote list of actions. Let the users know from the start that they are investing into the platform, then help them diversify their investment and commitment. Once users get invested, they can be monetized through tasks.
And therein lie the nuances of designing a portfolio-centric platform: While task-centric platforms can lure in users on the strength of the tasks posted, portfolio-centric platforms need to feed creator egos. The creators are fed three things: Rewards for good, consistent creation; Perceived ownership of the content; and clear ground rules depicting fairness, mastery, and a higher purpose in the creative act.
While a creator-centric approach to designing the platform, the portfolio-first approach also lends greater lock-in and competitive advantage to the platforms. With a task-first approach, creators could potentially move on to a competing platform if it offered better tasks. With a portfolio-first approach, multihoming is much more expensive and the creator tends to focus on a single platform.
On a creative/services marketplace like oDesk, the clients usually rate the creators. However, client review is focused more on the delivery of a particular task. Creator reputation should be based not just on task delivery, but also on creative abilities rated through peer review. For example, Dribbble designers rate other users, effectively creating a signal to recruiters to scoop them up.
Sometimes, platforms may get the peer review implementation horribly wrong. LinkedIn recently took the peer review approach with its Endorsement feature. However, the peer review is tied neither to a portfolio nor to a task. Users are asked to recommend/endorse other users out of context. The frictionless nature of the endorsement act also compounds this further as users would rather rate out of context than continue to see messages asking them to rate. LinkedIn Endorsements are a demonstrate how the peer review can be trivialized when tied to neither the portfolio nor the task.
Prioritize self-expression so users attract the right work rather than the next big paycheck. It’s a gentleman’s agreement: Bloggers, designers, and other portfolio-focused creatives are now as interested in getting support for their work as they are in getting paid, as they know their most inspired designs often lead to new money-making opportunities. Non-linear gains are the nature of the creative industry, whether it is the one hit wonder living off five minutes of recorded audio for the rest of his life or the actor who just got her breakout opportunity. While repetitive tasks are all about quantity, creative work is rewarded by quality. Task move the focus away from showcasing quality. The portfolio restores the selection process to a quality-focused one. A portfolio-centric platform gives creators room to express themselves, garner reputation from peer recognition and subsequently convert this reputation into a more durable revenue stream.
—Damon Brown is creator of the upcoming Creator Web-driven app Quow: The Quote App (previously Quote UnQuote) and author of the TED Book Our Virtual Shadow, Follow him on Twitter at @browndamon. Sangeet Paul Choudary is author of the popular blog Platform Thinking and is a contributor to HBR, All Things Digital, TechCrunch, and Wired. Follow him on Twitter at @sanguit.
[Image: Flickr user Jaclyn Sollars]