At a glance

Policy stage: 
Level of involvement: 
Cost: 
Low
Length of process: 
Varies
Number of participants: 
Varies, but can be very high.
Participant selection: 
Self-selecting
Online / Offline: 
Mainly online

Crowd-Sourcing 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.

Description

Crowd-Sourcing 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.

Crowd-Sourcing 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 crowd-sourcing:

  • Crowd-voting – when a website gathers a large number of opinions and judgement on a certain topic.
  • Crowd-sourcing creative work – this can span projects such as graphic design, architecture, and illustration.
  • Crowd-sourcing 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.
  • Crowd-funding- 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.

Used for

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.

    Participants

    The very nature of crowd-sourcing 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 crowd-sourcing.

    Costs

    The costs of crowd-sourcing 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.

    Strengths

    • 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

    Weaknesses

    • 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.
    • There can be a lack of iteration between the crowd and the co-ordinator.

    Origin

    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.

    Photo credit Pat Loika: Flickr (CC BY 2.0)