About Me

Crowdsourcing: A Definition

  • I like to use two definitions for crowdsourcing:

    The White Paper Version: Crowdsourcing is the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.

    The Soundbyte Version: The application of Open Source principles to fields outside of software.

The Rise of Crowdsourcing

  • Read the original article about crowdsourcing, published in the June, 2006 issue of Wired Magazine.
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March 23, 2007



I found the tip on privately contributing the most useful (children guessing the number of beans). Websites hosting polls should never show the current results before readers submit their opinion.
I'm taking a shot at writing with the gang at to see for myself the efficacy of this approach.

Javier Marti

I think that this trend if so strong that any company that doesn't start to operate marketing from the customers up, instead of the other way round, will be pushed out of the market in no time.
This is not only a social, but a stong commercial revolution we shouldn't' overlook.
Marketing has always been said to have the customer as the centre of everything, but we all know that as companies grow more bureaucratic, that stops happening.
Now they really have to do it, otherwise, in no time a competitor will set up shop and "steal" customers before they even realize what happened.
This will be in months, not years anymore...



Ah, lots of nuggets of wisdom and thought provocation here! I'd like to focus in on a couple of nuggets:

1. Google ranks sites' relevance by tracking crowd links.
2. Crowds need constraints to harness (and retain) the individual intelligence that informs crowd wisdom.

Question: Building on these two statements, and Elias's comment above, most early majority "site linkers" will have been informed of the site Google ranking (and hence early/innovator crowd opinion) before making their links. Could Google constrain or step the site rankings to reduce the potential for "me too" groupthink?

Daren C. Brabham

Catone writes a good article and his summary of crowdsourcing at this point is needed, however I do find it a bit redundant of the literature that exists, both from Howe's original article and Surowiecki's Wisdom of Crowds book. I still see Catone operating within the defintions and constraints and rules set out by both Howe and Suroweicki.

I think it's important to tread very carefully on connecting crowd wisdom to crowdsourcing. For one, crowd wisdom demands some way to aggregate results, which I suppose means the technology of the Internet. Yet, aggregation is much more than this. There must be an exploration of how we are to effectively aggregate ideas (and other qualitative, not quantitative, solutions to crowdsourced problems) through media technology.

There are a lot of finer points like this that need to be flushed out to more clearly make the claim that crowdsourcing is something new and awesome, and is not merely some old wine in new bottles. For example, when I tell colleagues I'm researching crowdsourcing for my dissertation, I have to explain it, and they are always asking me how it differs from 1) global outsourcing we're seeing in business these days, 2) open source philosophy, 3) traditional call-for-proposals subcontracting that has long been going on in business, and many other aspects we already know a lot about. Honestly, I have a hard time explaining how crowdsourcing is harnessing all the best points of those existing models without merely replicating them.

We need to do a better job at making the case for how crowdsourcing is different from CFP subcontracting, global outsourcing, and open source. I've begun to explore how crowdsourcing is different from open source, mostly in that 1) open source projects have virtually no overhead (just ones and zeros) and crowdsourcing projects are more likely to work to create tangible manufactured products, 2) crowdsourcing applications, for all our praise of their decentralization that resembles open source projects, are actually quite centralized in that they require a company to post a call and, if applicable, offer a bounty, and 3) crowdsourcing, with its centralization and offer of a bounty, is more able to survive in a project no one is jazzed about than open source, because frankly some people will even do the dull work for a cash prize. I may formalize this 3-pronged argument into a post at some point, but it's the beginnings of the kind of work that needs to be done to legitimize crowdsourcing and make it more than a buzzword with a redundant literature base.


To truly grasp the significance of CS’ing one might need to look at some thing other, or as well as economic, labor, open source principles and other such emerging manifestations.

The cultural, sociological and phenomenological aspects, when looked at from the greater standpoint of humanities on going development/relationship with technology and the changing human condition might, in retrospect, prove to be more illuminating.

The evolving human consciousness is after all determined by both outer circumstance and inner experience. As much as we might want to understand these phenomena, we need to examine not only the symptom but also its place of origin. Are paradigm shifts as arbiters of change merely unconnected events or do they speak to a greater causality? Alan.


Some really interesting comments from all the above. As I read the points being made, I am struck by one thing. In many discussions on definitions of crowdsourcing, each writer is trying to map the pulse points of crowdsourcing by comparison (or differentiation) with other existing crowdsourcing models.
Often, these models have a frame of reference (or central agenda) in which crowdsourcers are 'invited' to contribute. In other words, the end point is roughly mapped and crowdsourcers are asked to complete the mapping detail by doing the grunt work.

Meanwhile, project leaders are busy controlling the process by manipulating, editing or choosing the inputs until they achieve a best fit to the desired or expected outcome. The examples Jeff gave back in his original Wired article on crowdsourcing fit the above.
ie, here's the 'problem', bring me a 'solution'.

Yet, for me, I am left thinking that the 'pure play' definition of crowdsourcing is - where there is no central agenda! Surely, it is the eclectic mix of insight and feedback from 'the crowd' that takes a project in myriad twisting turns from its starting point.

The *journey* = crowdsourcing.
The destination becomes apparent when the crowd determines they have nothing to add, because it meets a shared need or functional solution to the crowd.

Ironically, the clearest example I can give of this 'pure play' model, is the original open source software, where the end product bears no resemblance to the original code.
The final product is like nothing envisaged by the originator. The 'crowd' have taken something and evolved it to meet the needs or wishes of the crowd.


h t t p : / / w w w . c h e c k i t o u t w e a r . c o m

G. Rosner

Hi Jeff!
Indeed, crowdsourcing is popping up everywhere!

How did Barack Obama get so many votes? He crowdsourced his telephone banking on his website!!!

I loved Josh's article - and thanks for your comments as well. I know that a millionheads are better than one - and that's why we created - to allow people to use the wisdom of the crowd to help make personal choices and buying decisions.

The social polling engine is pretty new - and we'd love for everyone to check it out -


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Some really interesting comments from all the above. As I read the points being made, I am struck by one thing. In many discussions on definitions of crowdsourcing, each writer is trying to map the pulse points of crowdsourcing by comparison (or differentiation) with other existing crowdsourcing models.


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