Crowdsourcing: what is?

by Chris F

My dissertation will be about crowd-sourcing and gamification. These two usually go hand in hand, but I realized that I haven’t talked much about crowd-sourcing on my blog. The thing with focusing on newly defined concepts is that you can’t really find that many books on it, and if you find any, generally they don’t have it in the library because it’s so new and nobody thought of buying it yet. So, in order to research fields such as gamification and crowd-sourcing, I find myself using Wikipedia and the internet in general more and more.

From my research, I have found out that what I knew about crowd-sourcing was mostly right, with small modifications. Generally speaking, crowd-sourcing is giving a bunch of people a task, and having them resolve it. You can have lots of ways of distributing the tasks, and different audiences for them, from people who are specialists in their field to “unqualified” workers who do very simple tasks, but the main idea remains the same. A more academic definition for crowd-sourcing, according to Enrique Estellés-Arolas and Fernando González Ladrón-de-Guevara is:

Crowdsourcing is a type of participative online activity in which an individual, an institution, a non-profit organization, or company proposes to a group of individuals of varying knowledge, heterogeneity, and number, via a flexible open call, the voluntary undertaking of a task. The undertaking of the task, of variable complexity and modularity, and in which the crowd should participate bringing their work, money, knowledge and/or experience, always entails mutual benefit. The user will receive the satisfaction of a given type of need, be it economic, social recognition, self-esteem, or the development of individual skills, while the crowdsourcer will obtain and utilize to their advantage that what the user has brought to the venture, whose form will depend on the type of activity undertaken

There are many examples of crowd-sourcing, with more appearing as companies realize that this is a VERY cheap way of getting logos (Toyota and Obama) or bottles (Heineken) designed. I believe that the design crowd-sourcing examples are not necessarily relevant for my work, but I thought that they would be good examples. What is important for my dissertation as an example is that Wikipedia is crowd-sourced and OpenStreetMap is crowd-sourced. Other good examples are Waze, a gamified crowd-sourcing app recently purchased by Google, Duolingo, an app that aims to translate the internet and Crowdfynd, a crowd searching app. What all of these have in common is that they don’t give users real-world rewards, but rely on the intrinsic motivation of people who use them. The users of these applications and contributors to these projects are doing so for their own motivations, from trying to prove someone right by showing them a Wikipedia article modified by yourself to knowing that you’re helping others and improving the world in general.

I should note here that I’ve found an article about Nokia’s launching a crowd-sourcing project for their HERE maps. Although at the moment the project is only open to “experts from local communities”, it’s interesting to see them joining on the crowd-sourced maps bandwagon 7 years after OSM and in the same year as Google, which may have had more impact on this decision.


Estellés-Arolas, Enrique; González-Ladrón-de-Guevara, Fernando (2012), “Towards an Integrated Crowdsourcing Definition”, Journal of Information Science 38 (2): 189–200