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trying to find a way of completing a task, a solution to a problem, etc. by asking a wide range of people or organisations if they can help, typically by using the Internet
'It seems that crowdsourcing is fast becoming the "next big thing." Whether you call it "social answers," "help engines" or something else, there's a growing trend of asking those in your network to help you out with advice.'Marketing Pilgrim 20th April 2009
'Crowdsourced YouTube Orchestra Unites at Carnegie Hall … Google liked the pair's idea of crowdsourcing an orchestra via YouTube, so it invited musicians around the world to download sheet music and submit videos of their performances in the hope of being selected.'Wired 15th April 2009
'Obama as Crowdsourcer; Organizing the Country for Change and Accountability …'Tech President 8th February 2009
Whether you're a small business or the President of the United States, it seems that if you need help, opinions or advice, then crowdsourcing might be the answer. Why limit yourself to the resources you already know about, when an even better solution might be waiting to be discovered amongst the millions of users of the World Wide Web?
the perceived benefits of crowdsourcing are obvious – problems can be explored quickly and at comparatively low cost, and businesses can tap a range of talent that may not exist within the confines of a particular organisation
Many of us will be familiar with the established concept of outsourcing, defined in the Macmillan Dictionary as 'an arrangement in which work is done by people from outside your company …'. This definition might fit an instance of crowdsourcing too, but the essential difference is that, whereas outsourcing usually involves a specific, previously known person or organisation (often an expert in a particular field) crowdsourcing refers to a task or problem thrown open to an undefined public (the crowd) – quite literally any Tom, Dick, or Harry who could possibly provide the answer.
Fast establishing itself as a legitimate business tool, the perceived benefits of crowdsourcing are obvious – problems can be explored quickly and at comparatively low cost, and businesses can tap a range of talent that may not exist within the confines of a particular organisation. It's also useful for marketing purposes because the crowd may include potential customers – asking people for their response to a problem may also be a way to glean information about what they want from a product or service.
Crowdsourcing is therefore catching on in a variety of contexts. The popular social networking site Facebook, for example, has enhanced its global popularity by crowdsourcing the translation of its many web pages. The ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry's recently launched a "Do the world a flavour" campaign, in an attempt to crowdsource inspiration for new varieties. But examples aren't confined to business and marketing. Popular websites like Aardvark give any person the opportunity to ask the web-browsing public for help or advice on just about anything, from post-natal weight loss to restaurant recommendations. In the political arena, even President Obama has become an advocate of crowdsourcing, using it for example to source campaign funding prior to his election, and more recently to canvas opinion and galvanise constructive ideas from the public in a web-based enterprise catchily described as White House 2.0.
The term crowdsourcing was coined by the US journalist Jeff Howe, in a June 2006 article in Wired magazine. However the concept underlying it – essentially harnessing the collaborative potential afforded by Web 2.0 — has been around somewhat longer.
The word is of course modelled on outsourcing, substituting out for crowd, which refers to the online community, an undefined, non-specific group of web users. Following the pattern of outsource, a transitive verb crowdsource is also regularly used, and there's some evidence for a related agent noun crowdsourcer.
This article was first published on 3rd June 2009.