Posted by deepthinker on 21 August 2009

Crowdsourcing is outsourcing a task traditionally performed by employees or contractors via an open call to an undefined group of people, usually using the internet. A crowdsourcer broadcasts a problem - which may involve a design task or the capture and sifting of large amounts of information - and invites users or members of a community to submit solutions. Input from members of the crowd may be purely voluntary, or motivated by payments or prizes, while the crowdsourcer owns the best solutions.

Crowdsourcing relies on electronic media - particularly Web 2.0 technologies - to coordinate input from a large, distributed community, without the need for corporate hierarchy. Online communities play a key role in crowdsourcing by connecting those interested in participating in a project and serving as a venue for collaboration.

Crowdsourcing offers a number of benefits, including:

  • A low cost way of generating solutions to business problems

  • The ability to access expertise from outside the crowdsourcer's organisation

  • The ability to bring to bear resources on a scale that may not be possible through conventional means

  • Richer interaction with customers by enlisting them as participants the process of creating products

There are however some potential pitfalls. There may be significant overhead costs in eliciting or processing inputs from a crowd. Lack of monetary incentives may result in too few participants or lower quality of work. Legal issues, such as lack of written contracts or non-disclosure agreements may also discourage some firms from using crowdsourcing.

Some examples of crowdsourcing indicate the diversity of problems to which it can be applied.

  1. iStockphoto is a web-based stock photography provider using a micropayment business model. Photos are contributed by over 50,000 photographers, including amateurs and hobbyists. (The business was profiled in a 2006 Wired magazine article that coined the term crowdsourcing.)

  2. In 2009 the Guardian newspaper set up a system for members of the public to search and examine 700,000 expense claims submitted by British MPs. Over 20,000 people participated

  3. OpenStreetMap is a collaborative project to create a free editable map of the world. Contributors input geospatial data from GPS devices, aerial photography or local knowledge. There were over 100,000 registered users as of mid 2009.

A couple of good articles are here Wikipedia and a Wired magazine Wired by Jeff Howe

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