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Outsourcing of tasks once performed by an employee or contractor to a large group of people, who can collaborate online.
Crowdsourcing has successfully been used to analyze complex data, collect knowledge, develop new technologies, and even further scientific research. The online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, relies on crowdsourcing to create and edit its content. Nasa and other scientific organizations regularly use crowdsourcing to analyze massive amounts of information to detect asteroids, solve complicated mathematical problems, and even help cure diseases.
Jeff Howe coined the term in 2006 in a Wired magazine article, “The Rise of Crowdsourcing.”
Frequently Asked Questions
How many people does it take to crowdsource?
Crowdsourcing can involve any number of contributors. The key is to put your idea out there and see who joins. For example, the open source software community regularly relies on contributors from around the globe. Some projects get swamped with help. Others may just get one or two individuals to contribute. The better known your project or the better publicized, the more likely it is to attract large numbers of volunteers.
How can crowdsourcing cure diseases?
Even the fastest computers in the world can’t analyze every piece of data scientists have to wade through to make discoveries. At least, not without taking years or even centuries. Thankfully, using a form of crowdsourcing known as distributed computing, researching are able to harness the power of thousands—sometimes even millions—of computers around the globe. By simply installing a small piece of software, volunteers can let their computers analyze data in the background, sharing the computational effort with the primary researchers and other participants. While you sleep, you can literally be contributing to scientific breakthroughs…or, at least, your computer can. Stanford University is using distributed computing to help find cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and many types of cancers.
If you’re not up for curing cancer, there are plenty of other distributed computing research projects available. You can help study climate change, detect earth quakes, and even process radio signals to search for extraterrestrial life.
How else can I contribute to crowdsourcing projects?
Some crowdsourcing projects simply want your ideas. Before the Internet, food companies used to run taste tests around the country to gather ideas for improving their product. Now they can reach out to their customers directly and ask for suggestions. Lays Potato Chips has successfully used crowdsourcing to solicit new flavor ideas, and then used it again to test those flavors. Plenty of companies want your opinions. You can often find a feedback and suggestion link on their websites and Facebook pages.
If you would prefer to simply make a monetary contribution, crowdfunding, an off-shoot of crowd sourcing, allows individuals to contribute financially to new inventions or business ideas, or even just given money to causes they believe in. You can start your own crowdfunding project or look for projects to contribute to on sites like Kickstarter, or look for a cause you believe in, such as helping teachers pay for classroom supplies.