This definition is part of our Essential Guide: No-code/low-code app development evolves from loathed to loved
Contributor(s): Chris Gonsalves

Crowdsourcing is the practice of outsourcing tasks to a broad, loosely defined external group of people. The idea is generally to introduce new or more developed skill sets or a larger work force to achieve some specific goal.

The term was first coined in 2006 by Wired magazine author Jeff Howe in an article titled "The Rise of Crowdsourcing." Howe suggested that crowdsourcing encouraged the best-qualified and most creative participants to join in on a project. 

Examples of crowdsourcing include:

  • Possibly the earliest example of crowdsourcing is the collection of words for the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). In 1858, a group called the Philological Society contracted with over 800 volunteer readers to collect words from all available books and document their usages. Subsequently, the group solicited broader public input and received over six million submissions over the 70 years of the project.
  • In 1936, Toyota held a contest seeking a new logo design. The winning design from over 26,000 entries remained the company's corporate logo until 1989. 
  • Wikipedia launched as a collaboratively written and edited online encyclopedia in January 2001. Free registration enabled anyone to submit or edit an entry. The multilingual site now hosts several million entries in English alone. 
  • After the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010, an ad-hoc 911 service was created and established in response to a tweet sent out asking for help. 
  • An astronomy project called Galaxy Zoo solicited help in classifying more than a million galaxies. Within an hour of the website launch, volunteers were submitting 70,000 classifications per hour.

In the realm of information technology projects, crowdsourcing usually involves engaging and blending business and IT services from a mix of internal and external providers, sometimes with input from customers and/or the general public. Advances in Web-based collaboration platforms have improved the execution of crowdsourcing projects. 

Products and services developed to support crowdsourced and multisourced projects include  OnForce, SmartSource and Amazon's Mechanical Turk.


This was last updated in August 2011

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