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The term “crowdsourcing” was coined by Jeff Howe in an article he wrote for Wired Magazine (Howe, 2006) and he defines it as “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally larger group of people in the form of an open call.” Others, such as Enrique Estellés-Arolas and Fernando González Ladrón-de-Guevara (2012) seem to feel this definition is too restrictive and, in their paper Towards an Integrated Crowdsourcing Definition, they define “Crowdsourcing” as:

A type of participative online activity in which an individual, an institution, a non-profit organization, or company proposes to a group of individuals of varying knowledge, heterogeneity, and number, via a flexible open call, the voluntary undertaking of a task. The undertaking of the task, of variable complexity and modularity, and in which the crowd should participate bringing their work, money, knowledge and/or experience, always entails mutual benefit. The user will receive the satisfaction of a given type of need, be it economic, social recognition, self-esteem, or the development of individual skills, while the crowdsourcer will obtain and utilize to their advantage that which the user has brought to the venture, whose form will depend on the type of activity undertaken.

Although “crowdsourcing” is very much a buzzword today, it isn’t a unique idea. An early example of a government-sponsored crowdsourcing competition is The Longitude Prize, a 1714 competition set up by the British government that presented the challenge of how to best find a ship’s longitudinal coordinates (Thomas, 2011). Although no one ever won the prize, many were apparently rewarded for work the organizers deemed “furthered geographic science” (Thomas, 2011).

A design that did win a crowdsourcing competition, however, was Jon Utzon’s design for the Sydney Opera House, a building that has become one of the most iconic buildings in the world (Thomas, 2011). Thomas (2011) explains that in 1955 a design competition was launched asking for architects to devise plans for a building that would have a large hall seating 3,000 people and a small hall for 1,200 others, each to be designed for different uses. Over “233 entries, representing architects from 32 countries were received by the competition committee” (Thomas, 2011) and, to this day, perhaps there is no other building other than the Eiffel Tower that symbolizes its home city more; you think of Sydney, you think of its iconic Opera House.

The Oxford English Dictionary, canned food, margarine, the Zagat Survey, and the theater of the oppressed all have their germination in crowdsourcing as well (Thomas, 2011) so it is not a new concept by any stretch of the imagination.

That being said, the advantages of the Internet and social media have helped crowdsourcing go mainstream and there are now crowdsourcing websites for everything from designing logos (, to discussing business innovation (, to building advertising campaigns ( and business products ( as well as for testing software ( Some of these websites do charge for their services, but their prices are considerably less than what is normally charged for comparable work and/or services. Other sites are completely free.

Other types of crowdsourcing include crowdvoting, crowdfunding (with websites such as and being two of the most prominent players in the space), microwork, and inducement prize contests, such as IBM’s 2006 “Innovation Jam”, which was attended by more than 150,000 people in more than a hundred countries and resulted in 10 new IBM businesses.[1]

Wikipedia contains a list of about 150 crowdsourcing projects that run the gamut of subjects, starting with the “Adaptive Vehicle Make” project, which was created to “crowdsource the design and manufacture of a new armoured vehicle”—to Zooppa—“a global social network for creative talent that crowdsources advertising.” In between, there are sites dedicated to everything from the brainy Netflix Prize—“an open competition to find the best collaborative filtering algorithm that predicts user ratings for films” (—to the socially important Liza Alert, which is a Russian-based crowdsourcing project to help find missing children ( The list also contains the somewhat light Bar Database, which is a “crowdsourced effort to create the most complete list of bars all around the world” ( Asian crowdfunding Websites include China’s Demohour and Fundator, Taiwan’s Zeczec, South Korea’s Fundu, Japan’s Campfire, and Indonesia’s Kitabisa.

Crowdsourcing is a cheap, easy and effective way to harness the power of the crowd, which, as previously mentioned, can often provide insights that trump even the most knowledgeable of experts.

[1] (Retrieved: 8 February 2013).