Crowdsourcing and Collective Intelligence

Around crowdsourcing, a number of related terms exist but none of them can be uniquely identified with it. Such are Open Innovation, Collective Intelligence, Co-creation or User Innovation. These terms are used in different ways by different authors: some of them use these terms as opposite while others treat them as synonyms of crowdsourcing.

Using the information a found for a talk I gave on 24 March at a conference in the CEU-Cardenal Herrera University, called “El valor de Internet”, in this post I will clarify the relationship between crowdsourcing and Collective Intelligence.

Preparing the talk, I came across a paper written by Thomas W. Malone that is very clarifier: “Harnessing Crowds: Mapping the Genome of Collective Intelligence”. This paper cites the collective intelligence definition from the MIT C.I. Center. It’s a general but simple and clear definition: collective intelligence makes reference to groups of individuals doing things collectively that seem intelligent.

From this definition, it is easy to assume that many activities will be considered examples of collective intelligence. In this paper Malone analyze 250 cases and extracted 4 key elements that appear in all of them. These elements, based on an analogy with the world of biology, are called genes of the collective intelligence.

Genes de la inteligencia colectiva

These genes are:: who (who is carrying out the Colective Ingelligence task), what (what is going to be done, which is the task), why (why is this task being done, which incentives exist) and how (how this task is going to be completed).

Among the examples cited by Malone, there are some clear examples of crowdsourcing as Threadless, InnoCentive and TopCoder. But Malone also named other examples that, in my humble opinion, are not crowdsourcing: Google, Wikipedia, Flickr, Delicious, etc.. All these are examples of collective intelligence but not crowdsourcing.

Why are not crowdsourcing? As I mentioned in another post, some months ago I published a paper (with my PhD director) in which I proposed an integrated definition for crowdsourcing. During the preparation of this article, after analyzing more than 40 definitions, I found 8 elements that appear in a general way in all definitions: a crowd (the gene who), a task to perform for a specific purpose (the gene what), a reward for the crowd (the gene why), a participative process (the gene how), a crowdsourcer that launches the activity, a reward for this crowdsourcer, the existence of an open call and the use of Internet. Well, the examples above do not meet all of these 8 elements.

Google, for example, does not use any such open call, or propose a task to perform, or acts as crowdsourcer launching a participatory initiative, etc.. Google “just” takes advantage of the content of websites that were created by different users, businesses, etc.. to assign a value to the web pages indexed and allowing better searching (yes, I know I’ve simplified a lot, but I think the idea is clear).

In the case of Delicious, there is no crowdsourcer figure nor a benefit for it or an open call, nor a clear task. This is a free service that allows users to mark their favorite web pages, tagging, commenting and sharing them, that is the momento in which the collective intelligence appears… but not the crowdsourcing.

Therefore, although crowdsourcing is a case of collective intelligence, not all cases of collective intelligence are crowdsourcing.

Here you can see the prezi I used for the talk in the Cardenal Herrera-CEU University



  • Malone, T. W., Laubacher, R. and Dellarocas, C. N. (2009) Harnessing Crowds: Mapping the Genome of Collective Intelligence. MIT Sloan Research Paper No. 4732-09.
  • Malone, T. W., Laubacher, R., and Dellarocas, C. N. (2010) The collective intelligence genome, MIT Sloan Management Review, Spring, 51, 3, 21-31.


  1. Crowd sourcing is gaining collective intelligence . The gteatest advantage of cloud sourcing is that the collective intelligence is from a a crowd and the crowd has a higher intelligence than the population of a certain human being , because proplr link together.

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