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 6: The Most Universal Quality—Why Diversity Trumps Ability | Main | Chapter 6: The Most Universal Quality—Why Diversity Trumps Ability, Cont. »

May 12, 2008


Alf Rehn

This goes to show two important functions in "managing" the crowd:

1. Excepting a few fully self-organized systems, the crowd(s) need to be somehow "herded", "nudged" or otherwise made to actualize. This herding or nudging is highly interesting.

2. Crowds thrive on tools. Flickr became massively popular because it was an easy tool. Same for Blogger or TypePad or any other similar system. However, the traditional blog isn't a great commenting platform. I hate reading an interesting post and realize I have to trawl through tons of comments in order to position my comment. And I'll try not to get started on the scrolling. If I want to make a point in a text, I want to make it at the exact sentence that enthralls/offends/intrigues me, not eight pages down. With modern technology (this whole Web 2.0 malarkey) this should be easy, n'est-ce pas?

Rant over.

Marc Cortés

My english is very bad... so if i have any comments could I bring to you in spanish?

Just this week I'm doing and special repoort of Crowdsourcing on comunication on my blog... ( I'll put touy urgent appeal on it.


Tish Grier

Jeff...comments are always the *hardest* thing to get on a blog. That is, unless you're specifically creating what some would call an "echo chamber" (or a Boston bar during Red Sox season) or specifically courting controversy one way or another.

Then again, courting controversy isn't always a guarantee of comments either....

Did you also try posting on Twitter and Facebook about this? These days, the "crowds" seem to happen on Twitter (I always get good traffic back on Twitter) and Facbook can send some traffic as well.

Although, once again, getting people to actually *comment* is tough. I think that's why people like Twitter--it's like running commentary with no responsibility to anyone other than yourself (but what people don't know is that tweets end up in search...)

I'll have to take a look at your other chaps too--see what I can argue with you about ;-)

David Andersson

I agree with both T. Grier and A. Rehn, it's interesting and hard to drive people to your website. That's what made Google and Adwords make a fortune, right.

I would say even though you've received quite few comments, the quality of those comments have been way better than most blogs ever get. Quality over quantity, and you have it here.

What drives people to a good blog is mainly two things, I find: frequency and quality. Seth Godin is great at this. You have great quality here, but as you said yourself, the frequency's lacking.

I don't know what I think about the following, but it's worth pondering: Couldn't you just take two hours each week and post about your life in publishing and that whole circus? Many people would find that interesting, I know I would, and unless you're sitting by your keyboard all days, perhaps it could be of interest, giving you higher post frequency.

Also you could push for the whole book thing, giving the book category its own sub-page, like is doing by refering to certain posts with the links My Story and 31 Days to Fix Your Finances. You could do that with the whole book critique thread of posts. That way it's easy to sift that out and lift it from the everyday posts.

El Matador

"Why, in this age of instantaneous publishing, should critics wait until the publication of the book to make their views known? Wouldn't the reader be better served by being able to encounter multiple viewpoints in one handy volume?"

Agreed, but would Crown Books be better served?

What if, after 18 months of getting ready to publish this book, the crowd suddenly turned on Jeff Howe? Jeff posts book excerpts on, the comments turn nasty, and some NY Times critic, in an effort to better understand crowdsourcing, reads the negativity, finds it more compelling than the actual content, and pans Jeff's book? After selling a mere 1500 copies in 6 months, the book becomes a cautionary tale on the fickleness of the crowd.

Better yet, what if two months before the book is to be published, Jeff makes an urgent plea to the crowd to help refine, edit, and spread the word for his new book - (gasp) only to get 5 responses?! The economy has turned to crap since Crown bought the book, has gone belly up, and now, with shrinking marketing budgets, Crown has to choose between promoting the "once golden" crowdsourcing book (OMG, where did his platform go?) or some hot new Facebooking for Dummies guide.

But where are the crowds? Send in the crowds.

Jeff Howe

Actually, El Matador, I think your comment is the first one I'd qualify as nasty. At any rate, sales and reviews are out of my hands, as is the state of the economy.

The one point I want to clarify in particular is that the book is about 99 percent refined and edited. So far I've only changed one passage in response to a comment relating to the excerpts. Frankly, there have been some really useful criticisms, but I no longer have the freedom, or time to institute such changes. And that wasn't the point behind this experiment: The book proper is there to express my ideas; the appendix is there to express the ideas of the crowd (or those that read my blog, anyway).

I considered crowdsourcing the actual editing of the book, but for better or worse I'm just too old school for that level of experimentation. I wrote the book in relative isolation, and edited it based on comments from both my US and UK editors, as well as a few trusted friends who agreed to take an advance peek.

And again, I'd like to emphasize to my readers that I'm quite happy with the comments I've received so far. I don't need a zillion comments. Just a few good ones. My concern was that the appendix would be limited to a handful of voices, and I wanted to bring in more diversity than that. So far I'm glad I put out the appeal. A number of bloggers were kind enough to point to the excerpts and encourage their readers to visit.

Alan Booker

Why in this age of instant communication would one be surprised that commentary such as yours is shared? Because your tactlessness is affronting

Agreed, but would Crown Books . . . . . . . . . . .

What if the crowd turns on Jeff Howe?

Better yet, what if . . . . . . . . . . . .you get the point?

The tongue can splice and dice all it wants with words and those words El Matador, belong to you.

In days of old when men were bold cynicism aided the pursuit of virtue. You can read on here:


Jeff Howe

Marc: I'd love to welcome comments in Spanish, but I would then have to crowdsource the translation. That sounds like a joke, but it's not. Go ahead and submit any Spanish-language comments and I'll throw out a request for someone to translate them. Thanks!

Tommi Vilkamo

Jeff, I just learned about this book project and blog of yours. I haven't had time to read your writings yet (except for the Wired article), but this is a truly fascinating topic, and I can't wait for your book to be published!!

To introduce myself, I'm heading Nokia Beta Labs (publicly visible at, a place where we at Nokia try to practice crowdsourcing with a passionate user community of around 100k people (out of which a couple of thousand actual contributors). Our initial concept is very simple and humble, but already now, it has proven it's tremendous power.

To which chapter would you wish comments the most, and when is the deadline?

Also, I recently hired a Master's Thesis worker to do his thesis about the same topic:

Don't hesitate to contact me, if you see a way we could help each other!!


- tommi

Jeff Howe

Hi Tommi,

Great to hear from you. I'd love to know more about what you're doing at Nokia, but I'll contact you offline for that. In the meantime, please check out chapters six and seven. I strongly suspect they'll strike home with what you're working on with user-communities. Would love to feature your commentary.

Joshua McKenty


The only major mistake I can see, thus far in your crowdsourcing efforts, is a failure to engage. (And I said the same things to CBC at Northern Voice this year). I've made comments on several of your posts which, although you may or may not qualify them as "high quality", were nonetheless carefully thought out and articulated.

You never replied - either in the comments, or privately.

You've pointed out, above, that you have no intention of editing your "99% refined and edited" manuscript, and that the only comments that will make it into your appendix, and those which meet some arbitrary criteria - presumably, the ones you like.

If I comment on Tris Hussey's blog, I *always* get a response. If I chastise CBC, either publicly or in private, I get a mug or a t-shirt.

When I offer to contribute free research, analysis, or even encouragement to YOU - I get silence.

Enough said.

Jeff Howe

Josh ... All I can say is guilty as charged. I've been so wrapped up in the edit process that I've failed to devote the kind of thoughtful responses (or, as you point out, any response whatsoever) that the comments posted so richly deserve. For what it's worth, consider it a lesson learned on my part.


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