Crowdsourcing is a term for a phenomenon that has existed in some form or another since the earliest days of the Internet, and before — but has only recently begun to realize its full potential. Crowdsourcing refers to using lots of amateurs to accomplish set goals for a company or organization. Crowdsourcing is the practice of engaging a ‘crowd’ or group for a common goal -- often innovation, problem solving, or efficiency. Crowdsourcing can take place on many different levels and across various industries. Thanks to our growing connectivity, it is now easier than ever for individuals to collectively contribute -- whether with ideas, time, expertise, or funds -- to a project or cause. This collective mobilization is crowdsourcing. This phenomenon can provide organizations with access to new ideas and solutions, deeper consumer engagement, opportunities for co-creation, optimization of tasks, and reduced costs. The Internet and social media have brought organizations closer to their stakeholders, laying the groundwork for new ways of collaborating and creating value together like never before. The approach is being embraced: “Crowds are a hit. Millions of people, connected by the Internet, are contributing ideas and information to projects big and small. Crowdsourcing, as it is called, is helping to solve tricky problems and providing localized information. And with the right knowledge, contributing to the crowd — and using its wisdom — is easier than ever.” -The New York Times The term crowdsourcing was first coined in 2006, and it seems apparent that the tapping of its potential has hardly begun. There is an enormous creative and technical population in the world, many of whom have interesting ideas or skills, and crowdsourcing allows companies to profit from their work — often giving them a healthy living in return — at a fraction of the cost of a more traditional business model. While these amateurs might be paid a small amount, in many cases crowdsourcing relies primarily on volunteers. Usually these are fans or devotees of the product or service, or people who just enjoy solving the sorts of problems laid out for them. Big companies have realized in the past few years that they can benefit enormously from utilizing these huge pools of talent and imagination, rather than limiting themselves to small groups of professionals. One way in which crowdsourcing can work is simply by reaching out to an existing community of fans or enthusiasts to find new ideas at no cost. Many role-playing companies, for example, have been using a crowdsourcing model for many years, finding new ideas for games and supplements by appealing to their fan communities. Rather than hiring a full-time team of a small number of idea people, these companies can instead cull through thousands of ideas from devoted fans, ensuring a much richer variation with no direct cost. Another model for crowdsourcing is to use small prizes as an incentive for ideas from a large pool of ideas. A research and development wing of a company, for example, might post a technical problem they are having to a website. They might then offer a decent monetary prize for the best solution to this problem. The word of the contest will then spread through the ranks of those qualified to come up with a solution — in some cases companies keep directories of scientists on hand. The winner will then be paid for their work, and the company will have solved their problem much more quickly and cheaply than they could have by paying for their own research and development team. Still another type of crowdsourcing pulls in content and sorting from its users. This allows a company to build an entire product line with essentially no production work on their end. Many online t-shirt companies follow this model of crowdsourcing, with members uploading designs for shirts, which other users then rate. The member who uploaded the design gets a portion of the profits, and the...
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