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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June 01, 2007


Mark James Bowness

As someone who is interested in the development of crowd sourcing this is a great article and it seems like this conference raised many questions that I am raising in my own mind. Solutions, well thats a different matter!

Mark James Bowness

As someone who is interested in the development of crowd sourcing this is a great article and it seems like this conference raised many questions that I am raising in my own mind. Solutions, well thats a different matter!

Mark Bowness


Online community members will continue to contribute without financial reward because money is not usually their motivation, and if it is, it may produce lower effort contributions.

In a study where puzzles were given to two groups to solve, and one group was financially motivated (they were paid for each correct solution) while the other worked for free, the free-working group spent twice as much time than the money-motivated group, voluntarily, on solving the puzzles once the allocated time for the task was up.

This study is mentioned in the Chapter 10, Happiness by Richard Layard. The author goes on to write that the external (financial) motivation for the first group had reduced their internal motivation that would otherwise have existed. To quote the author "we have to consider...that by upping financial incentives, we diminish a person's internal incentives to give of his best".

(More on this study can be found from: Deci, E. L. and Ryan, R. M. (1985), Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behaviour, New York: Plenum Press).

Rob Hyndman

Jeff, it was a great session - thanks very much for joining us.

BTW, agree 100% on the comment about the $ sharing argument making sense only briefly. I think it's based on a fundamental misunderstanding of social media, actually - it seems based on a belief that users get nothing for their effort (and therefore need to compensated in some way if they are to be treated 'fairly'). If users were getting nothing, they wouldn't be using. Pretty simple, really. Users are clearly deriving value, and as you point out, with every expectation that this is all they get.

There is an issue on $ sharing, but it's a different one - the one you point out: what does it do to the community one is trying to create? - effectively, how does it affect the 'product'? For some, it obviously makes a lot of sense, and the model is engineered to do it. For others, like Flickr, etc., not so much. But as you also point out, new models of exchange are being developed and users will adapt their expectations accordingly.

Daren C. Brabham

Jeff, great post! This is probably going to become one of the more important posts that will emerge from this blog.

There is indeed much criticism of crowdsourcing. It is easy to dismiss the phenomenon as simple exploitative labor, but there's more to it. In exciting ways, crowdsourcing may very well be the instance where old cultural studies theories will be shattered. The Frankfurt School is already outdated, and subsequent cultural theories have worked to improve on the original ideas. But I think crowdsourcing is going to re-write even the revised theories. And that excites a nerdy way.

Regarding what motivates the crowd to participate in these various crowdsourcing applications, there is a difference here that from open source production in that compensation does exist. But, it is not significant compensation (with the exception of InnoCentive and Goldcorp Challenge, where people were handsomely rewarded for success). A desire to find value in one's work is what's driving it. Further, though, I'm asserting that there's a great big American thread of self-help and pulling yourself up by your bootsraps going on here as well. I think a lot of people eventuallyk come to view their work on these crowdsourcing sites as a stepping stone toward entrepreneurship, and many people are devoting themselves full-time to crowdsourcing (see Lise Gagne at iStockphoto).

FYI: I am launching a massive survey study on iStockphoto at end of June/early July. The study will ask two broad things: 1) what motivates users to participate, and 2) who exactly comprises the crowd and what are their skill sets?

I will keep this blog posted when results roll in.


tish grier

Hi Jeff...

good point about the payments. From watching the developments in journalism--such as MSNBC asking for "citizen" or user-generated video content, and ClearChannel closing down a Santa Rosa, CA news bureau in favor of "harvesting" UGC for its news--if people don't begin to ask for micro-payments from these big-media big-money earners, they are, IMO, being taken advantage of...

If the media/art/journalism that people are involved in is a non-profit, or an artisitc endeavor (which often doesn't have a huge profit motve)--well, payments are--and should be-- thought of differently. When it's a non-profit directing the effort, there's a sense of doing something for a greater good, so there's more of a sense of goodwill...a wonderful sense of being part of something larger that makes a difference.

And often, the big-media ventures retain all rights. From what I've surveyed, it's only the micro-payment places or the non-profits that allow contributors to keep some rights to their work. So, the big-media efforts not only take work for no payment, but do not allow any re-use of something that was produced without any effort or guidance on their part.

So, it's really up to the people to be savvy, to not believe a pipe-dream that giving their content to a big-media outlet like Clear Channel will be a mini-career step for them--because it probably won't. And then they lose the rights to their work on top of it. Rather, people should look more at projects that offer either micro-payments or are run by non-profits. We should get something--whether it's a small payment or a strong sense of being involved with a larger community--from our work. And no concern should hold u.g.c. in perpetuity.

Martin Oetting

Jeff, I just sent a trackback from my blog, but since it's a German blog, I'll just briefly summarise: I recapped what you're saying here, but think there is bit of confusion: isn't the crowdsourcing that happens at YouTube or Flickr something fundamentally different from - say - advertising competitions where large crowds are asked to submit ideas (or full films), and while the brand then owns everything, only a few of the winners get compensated?

Also, I would like to point out a crowdsourcing practice about which I recently learned, and which I find interesting: I heard at my business school (where I am pursuing a doctorate) that Elsevier, the largest publisher of academic journals, is actually paying only 10% of the people who work for them. This is thanks to the peer-review process in Academia: An author submits an article to a reputable journal, hoping to get published, to increase her academic reputation. She doesn't get paid, but sometimes has to pay a submission fee. The editor gives the article to 3 to 5 other researchers who scrutinize the paper, provide (sometimes very detailed) feedback, and who also don't get paid. They do it because being a reviewer is also good for their academic reputation, etc. The author can then rework the paper, then resubmit. This goes round and round until the paper is either rejected or accepted. So essentially, this crowdsourcing process is geared towards producing excellence at minimal cost.

Also to note: the journals they publish are then sold to the academic community, i.e. to the community that provides the content.

angelique van engelen

That is very interesting. I am researching possibilities to crowdsource a complex issue: the European Union's plans to copy the US FDA's decision to allow meat from cloned animals to enter the food chain unlabeled. The decision is still very much in the preliminary stages yet I am convinced that consumers by the time that it's been okayed will have been appropriately prepared via GM industry/EU funded pr campaigns. I have written an experimental piece on who is saying what here in Europe and involved some dedicated crowd sourcing platforms/grassroots reporting sites in my reporting attempt. (Cambrian House, NowPublic, AlwaysOn, Yoosk, GlobalVoicesOnline, Ohmynews, the Latest and SourceWatch)

I doubt I will be getting a lot of crowd sourcing responses because the topic is too much in its infancy for opinions to be alive in the public at large, but I am also faced with another very big issue here: it's very ethical/scientific. I can’t immediately see how peer reviewed data is going to help or how for instance the clergy can provide a useful input. At the same time, everybody knows that what's being bred in Brussels makes for future whistleblowing material, so tackling issues now is important.

I published my written piece on my blog accompanied with the comment that it's an article in the making (deadline 3 September 2007). I provided links to copies of all emails (over 15) to public bodies/consumer groups/crowd sourcing platforms/scientists and am now hoping for the fish to bite... I am also using my Twitter ( to update the involved parties of my findigs real time.

So my efforts have paid off, but the crowd sourcing is poor; only one platform got back nto me. Yoosk offered to feature it as a topic on which people can vote. We’ll see what happens.

Public sentiment on cloned food is hardly covered by the media in Europe apart from updates on where the regulators are at, as you will also be able to see in the story. Apart from the cloning article, I will write review of my crowd sourcing findings, which I would be happy to forward to you

Anyone wanting to comment on my approach, please do!
mail me at info at reportwitters dot com
Kind regards,
Angelique van Engelen

angelique van engelen

Hello again,
I left the message above too, but let me follow up. Since I am preaching to the converted likely, let me share this: I found Christ! REally. On Daily Kos. It's excellent for crowdsourcing issues. Once you indicate clearly that you are considering it on the record, good stuff materializes, sort of out of the blue (as you're watching it). I put up my article yesterday morning and got 70 replies, great information, OTR comments, the whole lot.

I also am testing Media Giraffe one of these days. They have over 300 knowledgeable people's details searchable by subject and category. Seems great too.

Teddy byes.

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