Crowdsourcing is the practice of obtaining services, ideas, functions, or contacts from a large and undefined network of people. This process can occur online and offline, but it tends to involve predominantly online communities.
Crowdsourcing seeks to harness collaboration for problem-solving, innovation and efficiency. It is underpinned by the concept of openness; often an open call is made for contributions, and then any solutions or outcomes are freely distributed. It seeks to take advantage of increasing global inter-connectedness, particularly via the internet, and use this to find innovate and creative solutions. What makes crowdsourcing unique is that it utilises both bottom-up processes to achieve top-down goals; it is not just consultation, where solutions are already framed, but an opportunity for deep participation with lowered barriers.
Crowdsourcing can be used for a variety of tasks, from calls for labour, to specific requests, such as crowdvoting and crowdfunding, or open competition, a search for answers or solutions.
The very nature of crowdsourcing is that it seeks to open itself up to involving as many people as is possible to reach a solution or goal. Therefore, anyone is welcome to contribute in the process of crowdsourcing.
The costs of crowdsourcing will vary greatly depending on the type of task in question. Costs will stem from collating ideas, paying for labour or executing the actual solution.
Approximate time expense
The time expense again varies greatly depending on the scope of the task. The larger and more complex it is, the more time needed to allow individuals to contribute well-developed ideas.
When to use
Crowdsourcing is a predominantly online practice, although it can be carried out offline. Users can edit books or web pages, post products or items, provide information or edit others’ work.
There are also the following specific types of crowdsourcing:
Crowdvoting – when a website gathers a large number of opinions and judgement on a certain topic.
Crowdsourcing creative work – this can span projects such as graphic design, architecture, and illustration.
Crowdsourcing language-related data collection – this is simply gathering vocabulary for use in dictionaries. It is particularly useful for publishing archives of words in languages not usually documented.
Crowdfunding- this is the practice of calling out for funding from the public for projects that may not be able to receive funding through conventional means. A particular example of this is websites that seek to obtain funding to make films and other creative projects.
When not to use
Crowdsourcing should not be used for projects that are very complex, and thus require a large level of contact between client and contributor.
- It is a collaborative process, which can involve a large amount of people at a relatively meaningful level.
- It is able to reach large numbers of people across the world
- Its open nature brings transparency throughout the process and result
- The value and impact of the work put in by the crowd can be wasted if the project takes a different direction.
- There are potential ethical implications attached to low paid crowdworkers.
- It can be very time consuming
- There may be more incentive for contributors to complete tasks quickly rather than thoroughly.
- Due to low worker pay, participant pools are skewed towards poor users in developing countries.
- There can be a lack of iteration between the crowd and the client.
Jeffrey Howe, it is said, coined the term in 2005 as work being outsourced to a crowd via the internet:
"Simply defined, crowdsourcing represents the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call. This can take the form of peer-production (when the job is performed collaboratively), but is also often undertaken by sole individuals. The crucial prerequisite is the use of the open call format and the large network of potential laborers."
Image credit: Louiscossette
Gather informed and considered opinions (deliberation)
Generate new ideas (innovation)
Number of participants
Self selected participants attending as individuals (open access process)
Level of awareness and interest
participants are well informed and can articulate their interests
Level of involvement