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You’ve used the Internet before, so it’s very possible that you’ve come across one of the best examples of crowdsourcing in the online world: Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org).
Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia with over three million articles in the English-language version alone, has been created and maintained by people just like you. Each week, thousands of articles are added and thousands edited by a global community of students, professors, and everyday experts around the world.
This is not just an example of a community creating a lot of information. The community, or crowd, ensures that the information is accurate. In fact, a 2005 study found Wikipedia’s accuracy on a par with that of Encyclopaedia Britannica.“Wikipedia, Britannica: A Toss-Up,” Wired, December 15, 2005, http://www.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/news/2005/12/69844 (accessed May 11, 2010).
According to Wikipedia, crowdsourcing is “the act of taking tasks traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to a group of people or community (the crowd), in the form of an ‘open call.’ The short explanation—crowdsourcing is a distributed problem-solving and production model.”Wikipedia, s.v. “Crowdsourcing,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowdsourcing (accessed January 8, 2010).
For example, quirky (http://www.quirky.com) is a social product-development business. Anyone can submit a product idea, the community rates and improves on product ideas, and the best rated products are then manufactured. An example is Cordies, an on-your-desk cable management system that organizes your assorted computer cables while also keeping them weighted down so they don’t slide off your desk when disconnected. Cordies is a crowdsourced product.
Even larger businesses are turning to crowdsourcing instead of relying on internal research and development (R&D). Asking the public to come up with a new package design, for example, is an example of crowdsourcing. Typically, the crowd that responds to this type of request (and competition) is online.
Crowdsourced solutions are often owned by the entity that broadcasts the problem in the first place, and the individuals responsible for the solution are rewarded.
Many crowdsourcing platforms have democratized creative work, placing the professional and the amateur side by side. On crowdsourcing platform iStockphoto (http://www.istockphoto.com), only 4 percent of contributors claim to be professional photographers. That means that 96 percent of their community are amateurs who are creating stock photography that you can purchase. Crowdsourcing may produce solutions from amateurs or volunteers working in their spare time.
Crowdsourcing can be found almost everywhere once you start looking. Even Google essentially uses a form of crowdsourcing to organize its results—Web sites that are linked to more and have more traffic tend to rank more highly. The behavior of the crowd of Web users is used to rank Web sites.
The term “crowdsourcing” was first coined a by Jeff Howe in a Wired magazine article in June 2006.Jeff Howe, “The Rise of Crowdsourcing,” Wired, June 2006, http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.06/crowds.html?pg=1&topic=crowds&topic_set= (accessed June 20, 2010). It’s a relatively new term, but the concept dates back as far as the 1700s. Early editions of the Oxford English Dictionary were crowdsourced—thousands of volunteers submitted entries on slips of paper and these were compiled into the dictionary.
Another early example of crowdsourcing is the Longitude Prize, an open contest run by the British government in 1714. The competition was looking for a simple and practical method for the precise determination of a ship’s longitude, something that had so far stumped the experts. A clockmaker named John Harrison made the most significant contribution to the solution of this problem with his work on chronometers and is considered the winner of the competition.
With the advent of the Internet, launching a crowdsourcing project has become much easier. The Internet has enabled us to connect crowds of diverse people from all over the world in order to tackle a problem.
One of the earliest known examples of a crowdsourcing project that made use of the Internet is the 1998 Tunnel Journal project in Leidschendam. The Tunnel Journal was an interactive artwork: an LED (light-emitting diode) display integrated into the walls of a tunnel along Leidschendam’s main traffic routes. The community could feed the LED display with their own text messages via the tunnel’s Web site. The project was discontinued by Leidschendam councilors because uncensored messages began reaching the Tunnel Journal’s electronic message board directly from the Internet. After revamping the tunnel’s Web site in July 2000, a new feature was added—a dynamic filter that allowed visitors to ban texts from the electronic display. Thus the public became its own filter, preventing derogatory remarks from featuring.
Since the launch of the Tunnel Journal, Web-based crowdsourcing has slowly gained a stronger footing and crowdsourcing projects on a massive scale have been launched in recent years. The scale of these crowdsourcing projects has grown at such a rapid rate only because of the Internet and its ability to let us form large and diverse crowds, often in a short space of time. Early players in Web-based crowdsourcing such as Threadless (http://www.threadless.com) and iStockphoto came into being in 2000 and InnoCentive in 2001. Since then, the number of crowdsourcing platforms has skyrocketed. Today it seems anything can be crowdsourced, from tattoo designs to films, medical problems, music, and even engineering.