Can Wisdom of Crowds Help Nearshore Compete with India in Mobile Apps?

Crowdsourcing, five years after becoming an official geek vocabulary word, has its own international conference now, and it takes place next week in São Paulo. As Anna Heim writes in her excellent overview at The Next Web, crowdsourcing might have found "a perfect home" in Brazil, "where it deeply connects with the local culture."

But will crowdsourcing find a home in nearshore outsourcing, even in Brazil?

There's such a root connection between the two: assigning work to someone outside the organization or home or social unit, relying on someone you don't really know to get something done for you. In fact, some people have wondered if crowd- will replace outsourcing.

Of course it won't. But crowdsourcing could become more of a useful tool for IT outsourcing companies. The popular focus on crowdsourcing for business, for the enterprise, has been as a tool to figure out what customers are thinking, what they're looking for, what they think of the color puce for their next smartphone. It's the 10-people-locked-in-a-room focus group approach made large. On a more sophisticated level, the CIO of a company called Sensata Technologies that makes sensors is using crowdsourcing to develop its community portal; instead of relying on a small group of developers, Sensata is harvesting feedback from a couple thousand.

Whether that approach would work for a sort of traditional outsourcing software developer is questionable. But there are some applications of crowdsourcing that might work quite well. Applications testing comes to mind. And, in fact, there's a service offering just that. Crowdtest will put software through its paces by enlisting human bug-testers, who are compensated with money and other rewards. The company will test software for virtually all the computing and mobile/phone platforms.

It's that testing of mobile apps that caught my attention, because that's where so much of the software action is these days. (Fifteen billion downloads just from the Apple store since it opened in 2008.) Unfortunately for nearshore developers, much if not most of that action is going to India. Programmers with iOS experience typically charge U.S. clients $10 to $15 an hour.

“India is a logical place to do it for the same reason the software and services model has worked here: lower cost,” Gartner analyst Anshul Gupta told Bloomberg reporter Ketaki Gokhale. (Gokhale filed a great story on the India mobile app flurry.)

Crowdtesting might be one way for nearshore developers to compete with that price differential. It's not just that a service like Crowdtest provides bug-finding at low cost, but that it can give a developer more response and insight than would be possible using in-house staff alone, or even conducting focus groups (not exactly inexpensive). Instead of a handful of reactions, the development team could potentially hear from a wide collection of people, people who would probably provide a better representation of the real user public.

I guess the trick is separating the wisdom of crowds from what critics of crowdsourcing call its number 1 problem: too much noise.