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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« Chapter Two: The Rise of the Amateur | Main | A Coup for Crowdsourced Journalism ... »

February 20, 2008



The new excerpt is very beautifully written Jeff!

I am resisting the strong urge to go on a long rant about educational principles and today’s educational policies and policy makers “Our universities are still essentially artifacts from the Renaissance period, representative of a time when the model citizen could wield the pen, the plough and the protractor with equal aptitude,” but will resist with all my will.

Suffice it to say that the ploughs are rusting away and the emphasis on knowledge, “not particular knowledge but knowledge in the broadest sense,” is dead in the water. Today’s focus is overly emphasized upon results rather than the journey we might embark upon to get there. We are all, almost trancelike, being shifted away from that which sustains us and should provide for future generations. Alas the earth no longer feels the bite of the plough or the hand and hoof that guided it. Ask your friends how many days of last year where spent with nature. Our relationship to the earth and nature has been greatly diminished.

The foundational thoughts you have laid in this second gift excerpt are manifold. It does appear clear to me that the unfolding movements from the 19th century to today’s almost fanatical regard for specialization is both frightening and dangerous. Therein might indeed lay the seeds that have given rise to amateurism.

The double edged sword of contemporary working conditions that are predominately shaped and fashioned by economic forces and of course recent technologies might have provided both the impediment and impetus for the shift of interests, interest in matters of the heart rather than the pull of materialism.

Some are able to combine both the love of their chosen profession and their livelihood but the numbers must be insignificant!

Amateurs are but just the tip of an iceberg, those who are willing to glance at a dream rather than at only material security. At least that’s my take!

Congratulations on the really great research and writing Jeff.

Regards, Alan


Very nice - the example of botanists is very apropos.

I think that you make a very valuable effort in placing this "new" crowdsourcing movement in the proper historical and sociological context. People have always had various interests, and diversity of activity has been the rule rather than the exception in our history.

I think that an examination of the "industrialization" of human effort is valuable, but to say that "Increasing industrialization led, as Smith predicted it would, to the reduction of every man’s business to 'some one simple operation'" is oversimplifying things. After all, there are many, many vocations that cannot be broken down in this manner.

Overall, it looks great.

Matt Greeley


Very interesting...the historical perspective on these 'new' themes and trends is very helpful.

Also -as expected- deftly articulated and erudite.

I wonder if ill you be delving into the economic fundamentals of the knowledge/information economy vs the industrial age later in the book.


Steve Petersen


As I read about the scientific amateurs you spotlight here, I was wondering about those involved in medicine. While I'm sure that not all shamen or witch doctors lacked "formal" training, did most of these people decide to take these roles upon themselves without any kind of training? Of course, would you consider the shaman or witch doctor an amateur? Was there any formal instruction for such individuals?

How about fortune tellers and psychics? I'm sure that we all enjoyed people who used their supposed intuition at parties and in conversations.


Hey Steve here is an interesting post, Andrew Taylor takes it on:

And here is more:

I do wonder if the shaman, witch doctor, fortune tellers and psychics really belong in the amateur or pro-am category, or if the shaman and witch doctor should even be lumped together with the fortune tellers and psychics? I had better get my Tarot Cards out and have a look!

Regards, Alan

David Andersson

Have you considered in any of the chapters the fact that the consumer has consumed the amateur?

My point is that in many crowded places in the world almost everything can be bought, hired or rented. People don't make their own t-shirts, they buy them from Threadless (which is often highlighted as THE community for amateur democracy); people don't make their sauce, they mix water and scented powder etc.

Once I do indulge in something, like painting rather than buying this awesome poster from, I get uplifted and wonder how come this feeling is so strange for me. My conclusion is that I very seldom do craft with my own hands.

Designing web sites, making cool AI's I upload to Threadless, both me and my friends are very creative by the computer, but often lack not the skill as much as the time of doing practical/crafty stuff by our selves. Also the pure amount of ready-made really neat stuff in a random store where the price of the product actually is less than would I make it myself.

Another thought: Will there be references in the book? After reading The Wisdom of Crowds I was very content of being able to double check some facts as well as delving deeper to some of the covered topics.

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Steve Petersen

Hey Alan,

Thanks for those links. I agree that the standard definitions in this realm that deal with training, skills, and paid vs. unpaid status are far from perfect in differentiating between professionals and amateurs.

Monica Hamburg

Crowdsourcing are necessarily unfulfilled by their work.

However, I am inclined to agree with David (commenting above) that we rarely craft things on our own any longer and that there is a tremendous satisfaction in creating... Funding, and more critically, respect, for the arts (and artists) is rapidly declining (on both a government and societal level). As such, creativity and creative individuals often find themselves having to choose between passion and livelihood. In these instances, it is unsurprising that people with a creative bent are yearning to flex their muscles and are using Crowdsourcing as an outlet. Without going on a rant here (as I am often apt to do), I think it is essential that our society addresses the long-term implications of making “creativity” an afterthought and appraising it so low.

I theorize that Crowdsourcing is becoming the “above-ground” “underground”: people with talents (artistic, scientific etc.) are yearning to create and gain acceptance for their abilities. While the underground moment in many of these fields has been, and continues to produce staggeringly impressive work, Crowdsourcing, in some cases, is giving individuals and communities the option of being their talents into the light. Is this “mainstage” ideal? That remains to be seen. The accessibility is uniquely Web 2.0 - the propensity for exploitation of the populace isn’t.

- Monica Hamburg and

Monica Hamburg

Sorry, the above comment didn't post in its entirety. It should begin:

Hi Jeff,

Once again, wonderfully researched and written.

I wonder, however, about the way in which this section concludes: a fairly general (and possibility inaccurate) note, especially: “... It makes for interesting, and interested, individuals. But such individuals will seek out rewarding lives full of meaningful labor. Which is where crowdsourcing comes in.” This could be interpreted as implying that Crowdsourcing involves mainly those who have somehow been “left out of the fold”. While that is the case in some instances, is it not always true. (My guess is also that you are leading up to a section which will focus only on those who use their talents peripherally rather than as a vocation.)
It is important to reiterate here that a key motivation of Crowdsourcers is often to be recognized as an expert (with/without credentials) (, e.g. Cookshack)...
Additionally, not all the “amateurs” who participate in Crowdsourcing are necessarily unfulfilled by their work.
(And the rest continues above.)

David Andersson

Monica, would be great if you could repost that link, it turns up dead for me.

Monica Hamburg

Hi David - it's

(If the template cuts part of this off, as it may, it's

or go to and Search for:
Collective Wisdom: 'We Are Smarter Than Me'

Jeff Howe

Belated response here gang: I'm still slogging through edits on the book (if it was up to me, I'd never let go of it!), but at any rate, yes, David, I'll be including a notes section. This last excerpt, for instance, depends heavily on other sources.

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