The truth about amateurs in crowdsourcing initiatives

The Origin

Since Jeff Howe coined the term crowdsourcing in the Wired magazine article (in which he uses up to 3 times the term amateur) and then publish a blog post titled “Chapter Two: the Rise of the Amateur”, exists the widespread belief that individuals in the crowd are usually that, amateurs.

Later, Jeff Howe, in his book “Crowdsourcing: How the Power of Crowd isDriving the Future of Business”, he explained this qualifier of “amateur”. He said that people who tend to participate in crowdsourcing initiatives are people who are educated, talented and with creative interests. Interests that do not match their every day job tasks, reason why he applied the term “amateur”. However, at this point, the concept of amateur as a hobbyist was already linked, wrongly, to crowdsourcing.

The spanish dictionary defines amateur as a person who “practices, not being a professional, an art, a science, a sport, etc.”. The Cambridge dictionary defines an amateur as a person “taking part in an activity for pleasure, not as a job”. The Collins dictionary uses non-professional and hobbyist as synonymous to amateur. In this way, we can think that the people in the crowd is non professional people.

The Reality

It’s important to notice that this false belief has negative consequences for crowdsourcing. The main one is that because of this belief, many people don’t trust or underestimates the results obtained using crowdsourcing initiatives. If we talk about non professional people, we will expect non professional results.

The reality is far from this idea. While crowdsourcing initiatives are usually open to everyone, several studies have shown that most individuals involved in these initiatives are people with training and experience in the type of tasks to be performed.

In 2007, D.C. Brabham conducted a survey to 651 iStockPhoto users, a crowdsourcing platform where users can upload pictures that are sold at low prices. The results were that 58% of the sample had received at least one year of training in art, design, photography or some creative discipline. In this regard, 26% had received such education over five years. On the other hand, 44% of people had a experience of more of five years of artistic remunerated tasks.

In 2010, Jeppesen & Lakhani conducted another survey to 320 InnoCentive users, a crowdsourcing platform which proposes challenges to be solve in exchange for a certain amount of money. In this case, 65% of the crowd had a doctoral degree and 19.1% had higher education levels, usually in science.

Finally, in 2010, Buecheler et al. conducted a survey to Starmind participants, another crowdsourcing platform where the crowd has to answer questions or resolve problems, with the result that 66% of the participants were graduate students, researchers, teachers, etc..

The Example

To conclude, nothing better than an example.

In the last post I described “El Plan B” project, through which two girls with a awesome voice have been able to raise: M-AND-Y and Electric Nana. Here you have some of the work done by them before “El Plan B”. Whatever kind of music you like, ¿would you say that these girls were amateurs? I do not, of course.

Far Away – DJ Tremmme song featuring M-AND-Y.


Down the streetElectricNana


Therefore, the idea that amateurs, as hobbyists, are the kings of crowdsourcing, is far away from reality.




  • Brabham, D.C. (2011) Raw data report from the study of Moving the crowd at iStockphoto: The composition of the crowd and motivations for participating in crowdsourcing applications. (
  • Jeppesen, L.B. & Lakhani, K.R. (2010). Marginally and problem-solving effectiveness in broadcast search. Organization Science, 21 (5), 1016-1033.
  • Buecheler T., Sieg J.H., Füchslin R.M., Pfeifer R., Crowdsourcing, Open Innovation and Collective Intelligence in the Scientific Method: A Research Agenda and Operational Framework. In: H. Fellerman et al (eds), Artificial Life XII. Proceedings of the Twelfth International Conference on the Synthesis and Simulation of Living Systems, Odense, Denmark, 19-23 August 2010, 679-686.
  • Brabham, D. C. (in press). The myth of amateur crowds: A critical discourse analysis of crowdsourcing coverage. Information, Communication & Society (


  1. I do agree with your comments. False belief really has negative consequences for crowdsourcing. It si because many people don’t trust or underestimates the results obtained using crowdsourcing initiatives. Thanks for the share. Keep up the good work. I will keep this as bookmark.

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