The introduction for the original Wired article about crowdsourcing reads:
“Remember outsourcing? Sending jobs to India and China is so 2003. The new pool of cheap labor: everyday people using their spare cycles to create content, solve problems, even do corporate R & D.”
There are three important words in that title: outsourcing, jobs and labor. Each of these words implies that work will be rewarded financially.
If the whole premise of crowdsourcing were to be based on the premise of payment, then discussions of ‘what is crowdsourcing’ would be simple.
Digg would be nothing without it’s an active user community, but it does not pay them so it is not crowdsourcing. Wikipedia relies on volunteers to contribute content but does not pay them so it is not crowdsourcing. Amazon encourages users to write reviews of books but does not pay for them, so it is not crowdsourcing. Nowpublic.com relies on it’s user community to post news stories but does not pay them for contributions, so is not crowdsourcing. All these are examples of great user communities but they are not examples of crowdsourcing.
Mechanical Turk exists to link workers to work and pay them for it. The principle behind the site is to allow someone to post a task which they need someone else to complete. This can be because specialist knowledge is required or because it’s tedious job that someone else will be willing to do for pennies.
Cambrian House is asking for ideas for software that they can produce and sell. They ask the crowd to submit ideas, they ask the crowd to vote on the ideas and they ask the crowd to contribute work towards designing and building the final product. If you are involved in the project you get a royalty payment based on the success of the product.
iStockphoto allows you to upload your artwork, photos and videos so that others can browse and buy your work. Selling uploaded work wasn’t an after thought, it’s why the site was designed – to connect those looking for stock artwork and those looking to sell it.
Threadless is a t-shirt site that only sells designs contributed by users. Designs are uploaded and voted on with winning designs being put into production. The beauty of this being that you know a design is going to sell because the users on the site are also your customers.
The term crowdsourcing may not be around for very long if it’s definition continues to be watered down, or is it time to redefine the term?