Crowdsourcing is a term that refers to the act of presenting a problem to the public at large, and then letting anyone and everyone submit solutions. Some crowdsourcing for problems that require specific expertise may be limited to a qualified group. But, the same principle applies. The term was first coined by Jeff Howe in an article he wrote in Wired magazine in June of 2006.
This is a tactic that has been made possible by the evolution of web 2.0 technologies, and brings with it the exciting prospect of finding creative solutions that would otherwise never be known, or, at least, not discovered for years. When a company hires a team, whether in-house or contracted, it draws from a limited pool of brain power, and then turns them loose to solve a problem. As talented as the team might be, it’s only logical to expect the existence of solutions they never thought of.
Crowdsourcing, on the other hand, broadcasts the problem to a vast, unknown group of individuals who are free to provide their best ideas. The entity seeking a solution gets the brain power of anyone who wishes to participate, from professional experts to undiscovered geniuses. In some cases, the solvers can become collaborators and work to refine divergent answers into one final solution. The final solution is then owned by the entity who broadcast the initial problem.
Sometimes the people who collaborated on the solution are rewarded with money or prizes. And, sometimes the only reward is recognition, which is the other side of the coin, and is causing a good deal of controversy about the practice.
For examples of crowdsourcing visit Wikipedia. You’ll find several there. Jeff Howe also writes a blog on crowdsourcing which can be found at http://crowdsourcing.typepad.com/cs/.
If you have any experience with crowdsourcing or have an opinion about it, please leave a comment.