Crowdsourcing is a neologism for the act of taking a task traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people, in the form of an open call. For example, the public may be invited to develop a new technology, carry out a design task, refine an algorithm or help capture, systematize or analyze large amounts of data.

The term has become popular with business authors and journalists as shorthand for the trend of leveraging the mass collaboration enabled by Web 2.0 technologies to achieve business goals. However, both the term and its underlying business models have attracted controversy and criticism.

In some cases the labor is well-compensated. In other cases the only rewards may be kudos or intellectual satisfaction. Crowdsourcing may produce solutions from amateurs or volunteers working in their spare time, or from small businesses which were unknown to the initiating organization.

Perceived benefits of crowdsourcing include:

  • Problems can be explored at comparatively little cost.
  • Payment is by results.
  • The organization can tap a wider range of talent than might be present in its own organisation.

The difference between crowdsourcing and ordinary outsourcing is that a task or problem is outsourced to the public, rather than another body. The difference between crowdsourcing and open source is that open source production is a cooperative activity initiated and voluntarily undertaken by members of the public. In crowdsourcing the activity is initiated by a client, and the work may be undertaken on an individual, as well as a group, basis.” <wiki>

Cambrian House is a web-based community owned business that combines the principles of wisdom of crowds and peer production to identify and develop sticky software ideas. The company’s stated mission is to discover and commercialize software ideas through the wisdom and participation of crowds.” <wiki> <home>