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Crowdsourcing is the act of sourcing tasks traditionally performed by specific individuals to a group of people or community (crowd) through an open call.

Jeff Howe established that the concept of crowdsourcing depends essentially on the fact that because it is an open call to a group of people, it gathers those who are most fit to perform tasks, solve complex problems and contribute with the most relevant and fresh ideas.

For example, the public may be invited to develop a new technology, carry out a design task (also known as community-based design or "design by democracy" and distributed participatory design), refine or carry out the steps of an algorithm (see human-based computation
Human-based computation
Human-based computation is a computer science technique in which a computational process performs its function by outsourcing certain steps to humans...

), or help capture, systematize or analyze large amounts of data (see also citizen science
Citizen science
Citizen science is a term used for the systematic collection and analysis of data; development of technology; testing of natural phenomena; and the dissemination of these activities by researchers on a primarily avocational basis...


The term has become popular with businesses, authors, and journalists as shorthand for the trend of leveraging the mass collaboration
Mass collaboration
Mass collaboration is a form of collective action that occurs when large numbers of people work independently on a single project, often modular in its nature...

 enabled by Web 2.0
Web 2.0
The term Web 2.0 is associated with web applications that facilitate participatory information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design, and collaboration on the World Wide Web...

 technologies to achieve business goals. However, both the term and its underlying business models have attracted controversy and criticisms.


The term "crowdsourcing" is a portmanteau of "crowd
A crowd is a large and definable group of people, while "the crowd" is referred to as the so-called lower orders of people in general...

" and "outsourcing
Outsourcing is the process of contracting a business function to someone else.-Overview:The term outsourcing is used inconsistently but usually involves the contracting out of a business function - commonly one previously performed in-house - to an external provider...

," first coined by Jeff Howe in a June 2006 Wired
Wired (magazine)
Wired is a full-color monthly American magazine and on-line periodical, published since January 1993, that reports on how new and developing technology affects culture, the economy, and politics...

magazine article "The Rise of Crowdsourcing". Howe explains that because technological advances have allowed for cheap consumer electronics, the gap between professionals and amateurs has been diminished. Companies are then able to take advantage of the talent of the public, and Howe states that "It’s not outsourcing; it’s crowdsourcing."
A less commercial approach was introduced by Henk van Ess in September 2010: “Crowdsourcing is channelling the experts' desire to solve a problem and then freely sharing the answer with everyone”.

Projects which make use of group intelligence
Group intelligence
Group intelligence refers to a process by which large numbers of people simultaneously converge upon the same point of knowledge.Social psychologists study group intelligence and related topics such as decentralized decision making and group wisdom, using demographic information to study the...

, such as the LazyWeb or Luis von Ahn
Luis von Ahn
Luis von Ahn is an entrepreneur and an associate professor in the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University. He is known as one of the pioneers of the idea of crowdsourcing. He is the founder of the company reCAPTCHA, which was sold to Google in 2009...

's ESP Game
ESP Game
The ESP Game is an idea in computer science for addressing the problem of creating difficult metadata.The idea behind the game is to use the computational power of humans to perform a task that computers cannot yet do by packaging the task as a game.It was originally conceived by Luis von Ahn of...

, predate that word coinage by several years. Recently, the Internet
The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite to serve billions of users worldwide...

 has been used to publicize and manage crowdsourcing projects.


Crowdsourcing is a distributed problem-solving and production model. In the classic use of the term, problems are broadcast to an unknown group of solvers in the form of an open call for solutions. Users—also known as the crowd—typically form into online communities, and the crowd submits solutions. The crowd also sorts through the solutions, finding the best ones. These best solutions are then owned by the entity that broadcast the problem in the first place—the crowdsourcer—and the winning individuals in the crowd are sometimes rewarded. In some cases, this labor is well compensated, either monetarily, with prizes, or with recognition. In other cases, the only rewards may be kudos
Kudos is an English word meaning acclaim or praise for exceptional achievement.Kudos may also refer to:* KUDOS, a vocational-counseling computer program* Kudos , a chocolate-covered cereal bar...

 or intellectual satisfaction. Crowdsourcing may produce solutions from amateurs or volunteers working in their spare time, or from experts or small businesses which were unknown to the initiating organization. Jeff Howe has differentiated four types of crowdsourcing strategies:
  • Crowdfunding
  • Crowdcreation
  • Crowdvoting
  • Crowd wisdom

The use of the term has spread to include models where discrete work is distributed to individuals within the crowd. Companies such as CloudCrowd
CloudCrowd was founded by Alex Edelstein and Jordan Ritter and operates in the crowdsourcing space. CloudCrowd has created a labor operating system; an on-demand online workforce of 25,000...

 and CrowdFlower do not use classic crowdSourcing because the crowd does not all participate together, or collectively sort through solutions.

Perceived benefits of crowdsourcing include the following:
  • Problems can be explored at comparatively little cost, and often very quickly.
  • Payment is by results or even omitted (See this page on the German Wikipedia).
  • The organization can tap a wider range of talent than might be present in its own organization.
  • By listening to the crowd, organizations gain first-hand insight on their customers' desires.
  • The community may feel a brand-building kinship with the crowdsourcing organization, which is the result of an earned sense of ownership through contribution and collaboration.

In his article, "Power of Crowdsourcing", Matt H. Evans contends that "Crowdsourcing taps into the global world of ideas, helping companies work through a rapid design process." This is usually available at relatively no cost, as people are always willing to share their ideas on a global scale.

Crowdsourcing has come in for some criticism for a number of reasons, such as it doesn't always produce quality results, and it is being used to source cheap — or even free — labour. When Facebook
Facebook is a social networking service and website launched in February 2004, operated and privately owned by Facebook, Inc. , Facebook has more than 800 million active users. Users must register before using the site, after which they may create a personal profile, add other users as...

 began its localization program in 2008, it encountered both these criticisms.

For this reason, crowdsourcing is becoming increasingly used as part of a broader Creative Services Exchange model, where the 'crowd' is vetted in advance and professional agency 'brokers' facilitate the trading of creative briefs between companies and the 'crowd'.

The difference between crowdsourcing and ordinary outsourcing is that a task or problem is outsourced to an undefined public rather than a specific other body. The difference between crowdsourcing and open source
Open source
The term open source describes practices in production and development that promote access to the end product's source materials. Some consider open source a philosophy, others consider it a pragmatic methodology...

 is that open source production is a cooperative activity initiated and voluntarily undertaken by members of the public. In crowdsourcing the activity is initiated by a client and the work may be undertaken on an individual, as well as a group, basis. Other differences between open source and crowdsourced production relate to the motivations of individuals to participate.

Crowdsourcing also has the potential to be a problem-solving mechanism for government and nonprofit use. Urban and transit planning are prime areas for crowdsourcing. One project to test crowdsourcing's public participation process for transit planning in Salt Lake City has been underway from 2008 to 2009, funded by a U.S. Federal Transit Administration grant. Another notable application of crowdsourcing to government problem solving
Problem solving
Problem solving is a mental process and is part of the larger problem process that includes problem finding and problem shaping. Consideredthe most complex of all intellectual functions, problem solving has been defined as higher-order cognitive process that requires the modulation and control of...

 is the Peer to Patent Community Patent Review project for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

A special type of Crowdsourcing is Buddysourcing. Buddysourcing is combination of Crowdsourcing and the word-of-mouth principles. It is defined by Magagna as “the outsourcing of task, traditionally performed by an employee or a company, to the social networks (friends/buddies) of the individuals in a community through online task forwarding”.

Web-based crowdsourcing

With the increase of web applications' capabilities over the past two decades, the capabilities for crowdsourcing techniques have been greatly increased, and now the term often refers exclusively to web based activity. While the potential for web-based crowdsourcing has existed for many years, it hasn't been well implemented until more recently.

In an interview with Wired, Andrea Grover
Andrea Grover
Andrea Grover is a migrant curator, artist, and writer. She has an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a BFA from Syracuse University and was a Core Fellow in residence at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston...

, curator of the 2006 crowdsourcing art show Phantom Captain: Art and Crowdsourcing, states that individuals tend to be more open in crowdsourced projects because they are not being physically judged or scrutinized. This ultimately allows for well-designed artistic projects because individuals are less conscious, or maybe even less aware, of scrutiny towards their work. In an online atmosphere there is more attention being given to the project rather than communication with other individuals.

An important example of web-based crowdsourcing, mentioned also in Howe's original book, is social bookmarking
Social bookmarking
Social bookmarking is a method for Internet users to organize, store, manage and search for bookmarks of resources online. Unlike file sharing, the resources themselves aren't shared, merely bookmarks that reference them....

 (also called collaborative tagging). In social bookmarking systems, users assign tags to resources shared with other users, which has given rise to a type of information organisation that emerges from this crowdsourcing process. Other important examples are web-based idea competitions.


"Collaboratition" is a neologism  to describe a type of crowdsourcing used for problems that require a collaborative or cooperative effort to be successful, but use competition as a motivator for participation or performance. A good example of collaboratition is the 2009 DARPA experiment in crowdsourcing. DARPA placed 10 balloon markers across the United States and challenged teams to compete to be the first to report the location of all the balloons. Collaboration of efforts was required to complete the challenge quickly and in addition to the competitive motivation of the contest as a whole, the winning team (MIT, in less than seven hours) established its own "collaborapetitive" environment to generate participation in their team.

Another form of collaboration can be found in the term of crowdfunding, inspired from crowdsourcing. Crowdfunding collaboration takes on a different role, describes the collective cooperation, attention and trust by people who network pooling their money together, usually via the Internet, in order to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations. Crowdfunding occurs for any variety of purposes, from disaster relief to citizen journalism to artists seeking support from fans, to political campaigns. The Age of Stupid
The Age of Stupid
The Age of Stupid is a 2009 British film by Franny Armstrong, director of McLibel and Drowned Out, and founder of 10:10, and first-time producer Lizzie Gillett...

is perhaps the most publicized and successful case to-date; this film raised $1.2 million via crowd funding
Crowd funding
Crowd funding describes the collective cooperation, attention and trust by people who network and pool their money and other resources together, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations...

, and also used crowdsourcing to distribute and exhibit it around the world.

Early examples

The Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary
The Oxford English Dictionary , published by the Oxford University Press, is the self-styled premier dictionary of the English language. Two fully bound print editions of the OED have been published under its current name, in 1928 and 1989. The first edition was published in twelve volumes , and...

 (OED) may provide one of the earliest examples of crowdsourcing. An open call was made to the community for contributions by volunteers to index all words in the English language and example quotations for each and every one of their usages. In the 70 year project, they received over 6 million submissions. The making of the OED is detailed in The Surgeon of Crowthorne
The Surgeon of Crowthorne
The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Love of Words is a book by Simon Winchester that was first published in England in 1998...

 by Simon Winchester
Simon Winchester
Simon Winchester, OBE , is a British-American author and journalist who resides mostly in the United States. Through his career at The Guardian, Winchester covered numerous significant events including Bloody Sunday and the Watergate Scandal...


Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed
Theatre of the Oppressed
The Theatre of the Oppressed describes a range of theatrical forms that the Brazilian theatre practitioner Augusto Boal first elaborated in the 1960s, initially in Brazil and later in Europe. Boal was influenced by the work of the educator and theorist Paulo Freire. Boal's techniques use theatre as...

 provides early examples of crowdsourcing in theatrical performances. Boal's models give emphasis to the participants, and the influence their collaboration has on their performances.

In 1994, Northeast Consulting compiled a database of trends in the marketplace. This database was collected from numerous sources, offering an example of early crowdsourcing.


Grover explained in an interview that crowdsourcing eliminates a financial barrier that prohibits most people from participating in art, as "Internet real estate is essentially free." Grover finds that the primary appeal of crowdsourcing is the satisfaction that is obtained through working with a community.

Individuals who participate in crowdsourcing projects are often anonymous, and Grover states that "people reveal more when they’re not face-to-face," because "there’s a certain security in not being physically present," which adds to the appeal of crowdsourcing.

Dion Hinchcliffe explains in his article Crowdsourcing: 5 Reasons Its Not Just For Start Ups Anymore several reasons why businesses find crowdsourcing appealing. These include, but are not limited to, the ability to offload peak demand, access to cheaper business inputs, generating better results, and undertaking problems that would have been too difficult to solve internally. Crowdsourcing allows for businesses to submit problems in which contributors can work on, problems in science, manufacturing, biotech, medicine, etc., with monetary rewards for successful solutions. Businesses can crowdsource design issues, ranging from simple web design (Crowdspring) or more complicated design problems. Although it is difficult to crowdsource complicated tasks, simple work tasks can be crowdsourced cheaply and effectively. The testing of software and other services can be crowdsourced. Crowdsourced customer support allows businesses to rely on customers to solve other customers issues and questions.


The ethical, social, and economic implications of crowdsourcing are subject to wide debate. For example, author and media critic Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff is an American media theorist, writer, columnist, lecturer, graphic novelist and documentarian. He is best known for his association with the early cyberpunk culture, and his advocacy of open source solutions to social problems.Rushkoff is most frequently regarded as a media...

, in an interview published in Wired News, expressed ambivalence about the term and its implications. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales
Jimmy Wales
Jimmy Donal "Jimbo" Wales is an American Internet entrepreneur best known as a co-founder and promoter of the online non-profit encyclopedia Wikipedia and the Wikia company....

 is also a vocal critic of the term.

Some reports have focused on the negative effects of crowdsourcing on business owners, particularly in regard to how a crowdsourced project can sometimes end up costing a business more than a traditionally outsourced project.

Some possible pitfalls of crowdsourcing include the following:
  • Added costs to bring a project to an acceptable conclusion.
  • Increased likelihood that a crowdsourced project will fail due to lack of monetary motivation, too few participants, lower quality of work, lack of personal interest in the project, global language barriers, or difficulty managing a large-scale, crowdsourced project.
  • Below-market wages or no wages at all. Barter
    Barter is a method of exchange by which goods or services are directly exchanged for other goods or services without using a medium of exchange, such as money. It is usually bilateral, but may be multilateral, and usually exists parallel to monetary systems in most developed countries, though to a...

     agreements are often associated with crowdsourcing.
  • No written contracts, non-disclosure agreements, or employee agreements or agreeable terms with crowdsourced employees.
  • Difficulties maintaining a working relationship with crowdsourced workers throughout the duration of a project.
  • Difficulties in collaboration of crowd members, especially in the context of competitive crowd sourcing.
  • Susceptibility to faulty results caused by targeted, malicious work efforts.

Though some critics believe crowdsourcing exploits or abuses individuals for their labor, studies into the motivations of crowds have not yet shown that crowds feel exploited. On the contrary, many individuals in the crowd experience significant benefits from their participation in crowdsourcing applications. Further authors discuss both risks and rewards of using crowdsourcing as a means of balancing global inequalities.

Project's like Amazon.com's "Mechanical Turk"
Amazon Mechanical Turk
The Amazon Mechanical Turk is a crowdsourcing Internet marketplace that enables computer programmers to co-ordinate the use of human intelligence to perform tasks that computers are unable to do yet. It is one of the suites of Amazon Web Services...

 have, however, made significant advancement in addressing these issues in the last several years. "The Turk" seeks to empower firms, developers and creators of any kind by lubricating the relationship between them and crowds. It achieves this by creating a platform through which crowds and employers communicate and perform transactions in a way that is safe for both parties.

In Leah DeVun's interview of Andrea Grover, she answered afirmative to the question: "Do you think that crowdsourcing removes an economic barrier that might prevent people from participating in art?". Grover went on to explain that crowdsourcing was originally based on economics. It was designed for businesses to be cost-efficient and lower their expenditures.

Grover also provided an example of a crowdsourcing project that went astray. Justcurio.us was a website where users would ask questions, and receive answers from other users visiting the site. It eventually degraded into people asking questions for pornographic purposes. Grover relates that "maybe just asking a question is too simple. Maybe there has to be more complexity."

Brand marketing

Crowdsourcing has attracted the attention of brand marketers as a way to engage customers using social media. Doritos "Crash the Super Bowl" campaign is one prominent example of a fully integrated and successful program. Doritos fans created their own advertisements for the chance to win a trip to the game, $25,000 cash, and the fame of creating a Super Bowl advertisement. In 2011, four consumer-created ads for Doritos and Pepsi Max ranked among the top ten in the USA TODAY Ad Meter.

Crowdsourcing for brands doesn’t always work. Levia, a medical device marketer, failed to generate crowdsourcing activity with a similar promotion. They lacked the prerequisites of a crowd, sufficient motivation, and a reasonable expectation of work effort.

Historical examples

  • The Alkali Prize
    Leblanc process
    The Leblanc process was the industrial process for the production of soda ash used throughout the 19th century, named after its inventor, Nicolas Leblanc. It involved two stages: Production of sodium sulfate from sodium chloride, followed by reaction of the sodium sulfate with coal and calcium...

  • The Longitude Prize
    Longitude prize
    The Longitude Prize was a reward offered by the British government for a simple and practical method for the precise determination of a ship's longitude...

  • Fourneyron's Turbine
    Benoît Fourneyron
    Benoît Fourneyron was a French engineer, born in Saint-Étienne, Loire. Fourneyron made significant contributions to the development of water turbines....

  • Mathematical Tables Project
    Mathematical Tables Project
    The Mathematical Tables Project was one of the largest and most sophisticated computing organizations that operated prior to the invention of the digital electronic computer. Begun in 1938 as a project of the Works Progress Administration , it employed 450 out-of-work clerks to tabulate higher...

  • Montyon Prizes
    Montyon Prizes
    Montyon Prizes are a series of prizes awarded annually by the Académie Française. They were endowed by the French benefactor Baron de Montyon....

  • Nicolas Appert
    Nicolas Appert
    Nicolas Appert , was the French inventor of airtight food preservation. Appert, known as the "father of canning", was a confectioner.-Biography:...

     and food preservation
  • Loebner Prize
    Loebner prize
    The Loebner Prize is an annual competition in artificial intelligence that awards prizes to the chatterbot considered by the judges to be the most human-like. The format of the competition is that of a standard Turing test. In each round, a human judge simultaneously holds textual conversations...

  • Millennium Prize Problems
    Millennium Prize Problems
    The Millennium Prize Problems are seven problems in mathematics that were stated by the Clay Mathematics Institute in 2000. As of September 2011, six of the problems remain unsolved. A correct solution to any of the problems results in a US$1,000,000 prize being awarded by the institute...

See also

  • Buzzwords
  • Citizen science
    Citizen science
    Citizen science is a term used for the systematic collection and analysis of data; development of technology; testing of natural phenomena; and the dissemination of these activities by researchers on a primarily avocational basis...

  • Clickworkers
    ClickWorkers is a small NASA experimental project that uses public volunteers for scientific tasks that require human perception and common sense, but not a lot of scientific training...

  • Co-creation
    Co-creation is a form of market or business strategy that emphasizes the generation and ongoing realization of mutual firm-customer value. It views markets as forums for firms and active customers to share, combine and renew each other's resources and capabilities to create value through new forms...

  • Collective intelligence
    Collective intelligence
    Collective intelligence is a shared or group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration and competition of many individuals and appears in consensus decision making in bacteria, animals, humans and computer networks....

  • Collaborative innovation network
  • Configuration system
  • Crowdcasting
    Crowdcasting is the intersection of broadcasting and crowdsourcing. The process of crowdcasting uses a combination of push and pull strategies to first engage an audience and build a network of participants and then harness the network for new insights. Those insights are then used to shape...

  • Distributed computing
    Distributed computing
    Distributed computing is a field of computer science that studies distributed systems. A distributed system consists of multiple autonomous computers that communicate through a computer network. The computers interact with each other in order to achieve a common goal...

  • Distributed thinking
    Distributed thinking
    A Distributed thinking project is similar to Distributed computing except that the human computer-user performs the relevant tasks. The tasks usually being unsuitable or extremely difficult for computers but very easy for humans...

  • Geo-wiki
    In recent years the ability to collect spatial information from volunteers has greatly expanded through the combination of , geo-tagged photos and the Internet...

  • Know-How Trading
    Know-How Trading
    Know-how trading is a web-based research and design phenomenon related to open innovation and crowdsourcing. It denotes Fee-based knowledge markets that treat knowledge and expertise as commodities that can be traded for financial gain...

  • List of crowdsourcing projects
  • The Long Tail
    The Long Tail
    The Long Tail or long tail refers to the statistical property that a larger share of population rests within the tail of a probability distribution than observed under a 'normal' or Gaussian distribution...

  • Mass customization
    Mass customization
    Mass customization, in marketing, manufacturing, call centres and management, is the use of flexible computer-aided manufacturing systems to produce custom output...

  • Micro-revenue
    Microrevenue follows the logic that great change can be accomplished by many small acts and is an evolved idea from the success of the microcredit approach to financing small business. Microrevenue streams, of traditional or virtual currency, can be enabled within web-based communities by creating...

  • Micro-task
  • JaksAlive
  • Open innovation
    Open Innovation
    Although the idea and discussion about some consequences date back at least to the 60s, open innovation is a term promoted by Henry Chesbrough, a professor and executive director at the Center for Open Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley, in his book Open Innovation: The new...

  • Prosumerism
  • Scripped
    Scripped is an online screenplay services company offering three services: script writing, script registration, and script coverage. Scripped currently does not facilitate collaboration among screenwriters. It combined with Zhura in 2010...

  • Social collaboration
    Social collaboration
    Social collaboration refers to processes that help multiple people interact, share information to achieve any common goal. Such processes find their 'natural' environment on the internet, where collaboration and social dissemination of information are made easier by current innovations.Sharing...

  • Social commerce
    Social commerce
    Social commerce is a subset of electronic commerce that involves using social media, online media that supports social interaction and user contributions, to assist in the online buying and selling of products and services....

  • Toolkits for User Innovation
    Toolkits for User Innovation
    Toolkits for user innovation allow manufacturers to " abandon their attempts to understand user needs in detail in favor of transferring need-related aspects of product and service development to users along with an appropriate toolkit"...

  • Tuangou
    Tuángòu , which loosely translates as team buying or group buying , is a recently developed shopping strategy originating in the People's Republic of China...

  • Virtual assistant
    Virtual assistant
    Common modes of communication and data delivery include the Internet, e-mail and phonecall conferences, online work spaces, and fax machine. Professionals in this business work on a contractual basis and a long-lasting cooperation is standard...

  • Virtual volunteering
    Virtual volunteering
    Virtual volunteering is a term describing a volunteer who completes tasks, in whole or in part, off-site from the organization being assisted, using the Internet and a home, school, telecenter or work computer or other Internet-connected device. Virtual volunteering is also known as online...

  • Waze
    Waze is a free GPS application featuring turn-by-turn navigation, developed by the Israeli start-up Waze Mobile for mobile phones. It currently supports iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, Symbian, and BlackBerry. Waze differs from traditional GPS navigation software as it is a community-driven...

  • Wikinomics
  • Wisdom of the crowd
    Wisdom of the crowd
    The wisdom of the crowd refers to the process of taking into account the collective opinion of a group of individuals rather than a single expert to answer a question. This process, while not new to the information age, has been pushed into the mainstream spotlight by social information sites such...

  • Ubiquitous Human Computing
    Ubiquitous Human Computing
    Ubiquitous Human Computing is the phenomenon of dis-aggregating a task into component pieces and then parceling them out around the world. Perhaps the best-known example is Amazon Mechanical Turk, where simple tasks that cannot be done by a computer—for example, labeling images—are outsourced to...

  • Userfarm
  • Urtak
    Urtak is a free collaborative public opinion website founded in 2008. An urtak survey can be created by any individual for his or her community. The users of an urtak survey can add questions of their own to the survey, as well as answer questions that have been asked by other users...

External links