Special Guest PostBy Angela Brennan

What does “crowd­sourc­ing” real­ly mean, what has it led to, and where is it going? Let’s start with Wikipedia’s (per­haps the ulti­mate crowd­source exam­ple) view:

Crowd­sourc­ing has been defined as the prac­tice of obtain­ing need­ed ser­vices, ideas or con­tent by solic­it­ing con­tri­bu­tions from a large group of peo­ple and espe­cial­ly from the online com­mu­ni­ty rather than from tra­di­tion­al employ­ees or sup­pli­ers.… The gen­er­al con­cept is to com­bine the efforts of crowds of vol­un­teers or part-time work­ers, where each one could con­tribute a small por­tion, which adds into a rel­a­tive­ly large or sig­nif­i­cant result. Crowd­sourc­ing is dif­fer­ent from an ordi­nary out­sourc­ing since it is a task or prob­lem that is out­sourced to an unde­fined pub­lic rather than to a spe­cif­ic, named group.

Angela BrennanCheck his­to­ry and you’ll find that the con­cept is not new, espe­cial­ly when one excludes the Inter­net. In fact, some very recog­nis­able organ­i­sa­tions used the con­cept to gath­er infor­ma­tion and even solve prob­lems for the greater good for decades. These were often dis­guised as com­pe­ti­tions open to the pub­lic. One source, Design­Crowd, tracks the con­cept back to 1714!

Crowd­sourc­ing today comes in var­i­ous forms, has some clever names and has already suc­ceed­ed in some major ways:

CROWDVOTING Think of this as gath­er­ing opin­ions on a cer­tain top­ic, things as com­pli­cat­ed as polit­i­cal views to sim­pler items such as which design the crowd likes best. Pre­vi­ous­ly, the process was as tedious as call­ing into an X-Fac­tor style show to vote for your favourite per­former; now, it can be as sim­ple as lik­ing some­thing on Facebook.

CROWDFUNDING In the movie “Despi­ca­ble Me”, Gru and his Min­ions crowd­fund their ulti­mate mis­sion to become the great­est thief by steal­ing the moon. If the moon seems out of reach, here are more achiev­able tan­gents to this idea:

Jamie Drum­mond of one.org believes that the momen­tum of glob­al pub­lic consensus

would make solv­ing the world’s goals for devel­op­ing nations as estab­lished by the Unit­ed Nations more achievable.

Lucien Enge­len is lead­ing a project to crowd­source health

by ask­ing the world’s uni­ver­si­ties (with the sup­port of the cit­i­zens) to sub­mit infor­ma­tion as to where they could find the near­est AED (Auto­mat­ed Exter­nal Defib­ril­la­tors), a project he already com­plet­ed in the Netherlands.

Paul Lewis uses crowd­sourc­ing to gath­er news

and believes it can be an effec­tive tool to solve crimes, gath­er eye­wit­ness accounts and piece togeth­er sto­ries with greater accu­ra­cy — which leads to …

CITIZEN JOURNALISM / COLLABORATIVE JOURNALISM Allow­ing oth­er peo­ple through tech­nol­o­gy to be your eyes and ears, which (in essence) becomes a form of allow­ing the pub­lic to co-pro­duce the news.

IMPLICIT CROWDSOURCING This engages users in an activ­i­ty in order to gath­er infor­ma­tion about anoth­er top­ic based on the user’s actions or respons­es; it uses human analy­sis in cas­es where com­put­ers fail to digi­tise books prop­er­ly. Accord­ing to its web­site, reCAPTCHA “helps to digi­tise books, news­pa­pers and old time radio shows” … “reCAPTCHA improves the process of digi­tis­ing books by send­ing words that can­not be read by com­put­ers to the Web in the form of CAPTCHAs for humans to deci­pher. More specif­i­cal­ly, each word that can­not be read cor­rect­ly by OCR is placed on an image and used as a CAPTCHA. This is pos­si­ble because most OCR pro­grams alert you when a word can­not be read correctly.”

Last Feb­ru­ary, Stephen Shapiro pub­lished his own list of the evo­lu­tion of crowd­sourc­ing. His post is def­i­nite­ly worth a look if you’d like an even wider array of how crowd­sourc­ing has evolved.

Wikipedia was launched in Jan­u­ary of 2001; as of this post, it has more than 19 mil­lion users. As you can see, the con­cept of crowd­sourc­ing has expand­ed and evolved with many play­ers now demon­strat­ing what can be done via the unit­ing of minds and tech­nol­o­gy on the Inter­net. Of course, Wikipedia is a free ser­vice. But, are com­pa­nies using crowd­sourc­ing to make mon­ey? That’s the sub­ject of my next post.

Angela Bren­nan (@AngelaLBrennan) has 10 years of expe­ri­ence in exec­u­tive edu­ca­tion, work­ing for busi­ness schools in Europe and in the US. She has expe­ri­ence in exec­u­tive edu­ca­tion pro­gram design and deliv­ery, busi­ness devel­op­ment and pro­gramme man­age­ment. Recent inter­ests include cook­ing, learn­ing Por­tuguese and furi­ous organising.

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