Why all that confussion about crowdsourcing?

Jeff Howe

The crowdsourcing term, as you probably know , was coined by Jeff Howe in 2006 in his famous article published in the Wired magazine: “The rise of crowdsourcing”.

Since then, little by little, crowdsourcing has progressed in fame to a point in which it has become a buzzword used in many areas. Many people, when they see online collaborative activity (or even offline), quickly assert that they are in front of a crowdsourcing activity. This situation causes the term to go slowly reduced, losing some of its significance or its true potential.

While there are clear examples of crowdsourcing as Threadless, InnoCentive or Amazon Mechanical Turk, others such as Wikipedia, Delicious or YouTube create controversy: some authors say they are crowdsourcing while others say the opposite. There are even authors who compare the crowdsourcing (which is a type of process) with a web 2.0 technology such as blogs.

This situation has a clear cause: the lack of a solid theoretical background that supports the term (a fact confirmed and defended by other researchers).

From my point of view, to begin developing that theoretical background, it would be essential to define at least four basic pillars:

  1. A global consensus definition of crowdsourcing
  2. A set of basic elements that appear in any crowdsourcing initiative. Currently there are some elements identified by some authors, but those are not enough to differentiate crowdsourcing from other online collaborative activities
  3. A taxonomy or several taxonomies interrelated, developed through scientific methods and no being the result of a happy thought
  4. A clear explanation of the relationship of crowdsourcing with other terms like open innovation, outsourcing, etc. from which crowdsourcing feeds but to which it is not a hundred per cent equivalent.

With al least these four pillars, especially the enumeration of a set of basic elements, it  would be easy to differentiate crowdsourcing initiatives from other kind of online initiatives. Supporting this knowledge, a general taxonomy would allow to group the crowdsourcing activities based on these characteristics.

My current research is focused on the study of these four elements, usually consulting the existing literature about crowdsourcing. The next posts will discuss these issues. In fact the following post will treat the problems with the simple definition of the term.


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