At first glance, Polyvore.com is just another fun site for fashionistas. Site users collect images of models, garments, and accessories from all over the Web and assemble the images into style-inspiring collages (or “sets” as Polyvore calls them). Many of the chic items can be purchased online, often directly through Polyvore, but these online sales only make up about a third of the site’s revenue. Polyvore’s real cash cow comes from the consumer-preference data collected from its 7 million users. In a New Yorker article last March, Jess Lee Polyvore’s Vice President of Product Management described the statistics gleaned from the site as “a goldmine of analytics.” Polyvore sells this data to labels and retailers, helping them better identify what their consumers will buy.
Polyvore can narrow its crowdsourcing focus to a particular store or label by partnering with it. For example, the site teamed up with Calvin Klein to create the “Soft+Flirty” set. Users perused the items in this set like garments in a real store, selecting individual pieces to include in their own sets. Every time a user considered a particular “Soft+Flirty” item, running the cursor over that image, that data was recorded and then provided to the people at Calvin Klein.
Fashion industry heavies, such as Bergdorf Goodman and Michael Kors, are using Polyvore to conduct contests, which can yield a treasure chest of data about their consumer. Designer Rebecca Minkoff created a Polyvore contest in which users designed a purse, picking and choosing from images like zippers, studs, and tassels. The lucky winner, a user named f21obsessed, will have the rare pleasure of seeing the purse in stores next month, but Minkoff will get something much more valuable: a clearer sense of what her consumer wants. No doubt, future collections will be created with this information in mind.
Traditionally, fashion designs are the artistic expression of an individual designer, not a response to the collective creativity of the masses. How might crowdsourcing stimulate artistic field, inspiring new approaches to traditional arts? What creative fields could benefit the most from crowdsourcing?