Crowdsourcing is a way to outsource a task to an undefined community of people. This kind of task has traditionally been assigned to a single contractor, but the internet has enabled large groups of people to participate – often to broader, more creative effect.
Usually taking the form of an open call, crowdsourcing may or may not include a monetary reward. Perhaps the best way to understand it is through examples of how companies and individuals have used crowdsourcing to accomplish large tasks:
- In January 2008 the State of Texas installed 200 mobile cameras along the border of Texas and Mexico to allow anyone with an Internet connection to watch the border and report sightings of alleged illegal immigrants to border patrol agents.
- In June 2008 RYZ launched. RYZ is a crowdsourcing footwear company that allows any member to submit designs and critique and vote on other members’ designs. Then the top vote-getters are produced as actual shoes.
- Photo Web sites such as Flickr and Shutterstock use crowdsourcing to add to their libraries of free stock images for the public to use.
- In an ongoing effort to improve their DVD rating system, Netflix started a crowdsourcing initiative in 2006 with a $1,000,000 prize for anyone who could improve the system by at least 10%. Contest participants can download vast amounts of anonymized data from Netflix to test their proposals. Netflix also is offering annual progress prizes of $50,000 to keep the crowds motivated, and increase their chances of reaching the optimal 10% improvement rate.
Update – 5/22/09: We recently used crowdsourcing ourselves when launching our newest SmartBrief newsletter, SmartBrief on ExecTech. Read our blog post about how we tapped SmartBrief on Social Media readers for suggestions and feedback about this new addition to the SmartBrief family.
Photo credit, James Cridland