( I first published this article  in February 2010 while looking for a web designer for moneyacademy.co.ke which became pesatalk.com. I think it still holds relevance 2 years on. The iHub launched iHub Consulting recently. I have reposted it verbatim.)

I have been looking for a web developer to do a information/website for my company for a couple of weeks now, and it has been quite an experience. Given that I have a very limited budget, high end web dev houses such as DotSavvy and 3Mice are out of my reach and so I have been trying to get a skilled freelancer or firm that gets what I am trying to do.

In the midst of all the searching, designing and what not, I recalled reading about Top Coder in Jeff Howes’ “Crowdsourcing: How the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business”,  and decided to give crowdsourced web development a try. I got in contact with TC and a couple of e-mails discussions later was informed that it would cost me between US$6,000 and US$8,000 to have the website I wanted done. That’s between KES 510,000 and KES 680,000. For a website.

When I mentioned the kind of money I had in mind, my contact at Top Coder was surprised, but also very interested in finding out how exactly I intended to go about having the site done for that kind of budget. It was in the ensuing discussion that we realized where the problem lay: Purchasing Power Parity, or in this case Disparity. You see, the prices stated by Top Coder are determined by market forces of individuals in countries with much higher standards, and thus costs of living, than us here in Nairobi. For instance, a PHP Developer in the US earns, on average, between US$70,000 and US$100, 000 p.a. which translates to between KES 460,000 and KES 660,000 per month while the highest paid developer I have met in the country takes home KES 150,000 per month. This being so, what I might consider to be a reasonably high budget for my project looks ridiculous to the fellows and lasses at Top Coder.

So where does iHub come into all this? I believe the iHub is the perfect place and concept to nucleate crowdsourcing not only in Kenya, but on the continent too. The iHub’s brilliance would lie not in the provision of physical space and high speed internet, but as a ‘notice-board’ through which developers, creatives, designers, thinkers and other such “-ers” could acquire tasks and possibly full time gigs.

Take my case for instance: I would simply approach iHub through iHub.co.ke and state that I would like to have a website done. Assuming that I have completely no idea about how to go about web development, I would be put in touch with a liaison who would guide me thru the process. This liaison would be an employee of iHub but could also be a freelancer registered with iHub and whose primary responsibility would be guiding new clients thru the development process. We would break down the task into smaller components such as conceptualization, design,  development, assembly and deployment and would then put these individual tasks on the online noticeboard. The members would pick the areas where they are best fitted e.g. UI/UX design or optimization for mobile, and develop the apps and send them in. A review board, again constituted of members, would review the submissions and pick the best, or put them back on the notice board for the rest of the society vote the best apps. The winners, those whose apps are picked, would then be rewarded. The reward would come out of my payment to iHub, with a small cut going to the firm and the rest to the winners. By adopting this kind of a model, Erik’s (Hersman) fear of funding shortage in 2-3 years would be allayed as this model would provide sustainability to the iHub.

Its location, in Kenya, and thus its access to relatively cheaper resources in terms of developers means that the iHub could become the world’s leading software development house of choice, particularly for Small and Mid-sized businesses. Going forward, the iHub team should engage a lot of businesses in the country, from software development firms, to transporters to lawyers to get a feel of how software application can be enhanced beyond the usual word processing and sheet-spreading.

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Wikipedia defines Crowdsourcing as the “…act of taking tasks traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing them to a group of people or community, through an “open call” to a large group of people (a crowd) asking for contributions”. To illustrate this concept, lets imagine that the cateress at the local university’s cafeteria would like to change the Wednesday lunch meal, but is not sure what she should put in. She puts a notice on the notice board outside the school cafeteria inviting the students to suggest what meal combo they would like on Wednesday, offering a week’s free meals to the student with the winning combo. In addition, she passes the task of picking the winner to the students themselves i.e. the students can vote for each others’ ideas. After one week, she has received possibly 20 meal combos, but one of those has been voted as the best meal and is thus adopted for Wednesday, with the student who suggested it first earning him/herself a weeks free meals.