A look at the roots, implementation, advantages and disadvantages of crowdsourcing. Presented to a graduate-level research methods class.


Erin Brown

March 20, 2013


  1. Crowdsourcing is... Erin Brown March 20, 2013

  2. None
  3. crowdsourcing |ˈkroudˌsôrsiNG| • “dictionary” version: the practice whereby an organization

    enlists a variety of freelancers, paid or unpaid, to work on a specific task or problem. • Jeff Howe’s “white paper” version: the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call. • Howe’s “sound byte” version: the application of Open Source principles to fields outside of software. • “Mashable” version: distributed problem solving.
  4. ...a “buzzword.” (I hate buzzwords.) Crowdsourcing is...

  5. Crowdsourcing is... ...something we’ve heard by many other names.

  6. Like what? •Volunteering •Collaboration •Democracy •Revolution •Communism (may be forced,

    but still sourced)
  7. Be specific, cite examples! •Bake sales •Audubon Society bird count

    •Amateur radio nets •Elections •Green Revolution, Arab Spring
  8. Arirang Festival

  9. How should we define crowdsourcing? ...a significant population ...with an

    instance of underlying organization ...working together toward a common purpose.
  10. Crowdsourcing has... ...channels, such as voting, financing or labor.

  11. Crowdsourcing has... ...a spectrum of classification.

  12. serious, involuntary or structured ‐ ‑ fun, voluntary or informal

  13. Labor Camps ‐ ‑ Flash Mobs

  14. Today’s essential crowdsourcing tools... ...are themselves crowdsourced!

  15. ARPANet & NSFNet •Problem: the expense of supercomputing •Population: research

    laboratories, universities •Common goal: create a supercomputer network •‘requests for proposal’ •corporations, telecoms support with hardware
  16. The World Wide Web •Problem: difficult to share studies worldwide

    •Population: physicists •Common goal: view, collaboratively edit research •developed at CERN •required worldwide implementation
  17. The World Wide Web •Problem: access is limited to a

    select population, in competition with Gopher protocol •Population: still mostly physicists •Common goal: expand accessibility •NCSA develops Mosaic for Unix, Windows, Mac
  18. “I designed [the web] for a social effect — to

    help people work together — and not as a technical toy. The ultimate goal of the Web is to support and improve our weblike existence in the world. We clump into families, associations, and companies. We develop trust across the miles and distrust around the corner.” —Tim Berners Lee
  19. Crowdsourcing in...

  20. Open-source software •Problem: closed source code, “a wasteful distribution of

    programming” •Population: students, researchers, hackers •Common goal: support the opening, modification and redistribution of software
  21. Berkeley Software Distribution •BSD UNIX forked from Bell Labs’ version,

    popular among research laboratories, universities •DARPA funds BSD to provide a version of UNIX with networking capabilities for ARPANet •AT&T’s license fee reaches $200,000 •BSD lives on in several operating systems today
  22. Open-source software •Operating Systems: Linux, Chromium •Languages: Perl, PHP, Python,

    Ruby •Browsers: Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome •Databases: mySQL, MongoDB •Applications: Apache (server), OpenOffice (suite)
  23. Seti@Home •Problem: analyze solar system radio data •Population: computer users,

    astronomy fans •Common goal: find extraterrestrial life •5.2m participants, 2m years of computing time •
  24. Open Data •Problem: closed, unorganized data •Population: everyone desiring information

    •Common goal: make data accessible to all •Jimmy Wales: open, peer-reviewed encyclopedia •Berners-Lee: a call for open data at TED
  25. Berners-Lee: The Year Open Data Went Worldwide

  26. Crowdsourcing in...

  27. AP: Journalism Study Shows Impact of Cutbacks in News

  28. •Problem: few field reporters to cover a big world •Population:

    mainstream media, news witnesses •Common goal: disseminate news, information •CNN iReport, APM Public Insight Network •Arab Spring, Chelyabinsk meteor, local events Citizen Journalism
  29. Sports Analysis •Problem: sports media can’t satisfy fans 24/7 •Population:

    sports fans, teams, athletes •Common goal: in-depth analysis, voice of fans •Bleacher Report, SB Nation •User-generated content more prevalent
  30. Weather Reporting •Problem: big world, decreasing budgets •Population: everyone •Common

    goal: public safety •Weather Channel iWitness, NOAA Skywarn
  31. Random acts of... ...crowdsourcing

  32. Digg •Problem: so many stories, so little time •Population: people

    who consume news socially •Common goal: filter top news, quality content •Digg editors base home page placement on how popular a story is via social media shares
  33. Iceland’s Constitution •Problem: constitution must be modified •Population: Icelanders •Common

    goal: a democracy that reflects the will of the people •Icelanders agreed to contradictory clauses.
  34. Crowdsourcing has... ...pros & cons.

  35. Crowds are...AWESOME!

  36. •Wealth of content, resources, knowledge •Generally inexpensive •Increases opportunity for

    those sourced •Enhances, strengthens community Crowdsourcing benefits
  37. Crowds are...MESSY!

  38. •Content may be of lesser quality •Questions of authenticity •Decreases

    opportunity for experts •Hive mind and herd behavior Crowdsourcing disadvantages
  39. How can we improve crowdsourcing? •Develop “T-minded” people •Establish a

    culture •Improved technology •Community building
  40. Thank you!