What is Crowdsourcing?
If outsourcing was the non-traditional employment trend of the latter part of the twentieth century, this century’s trend appears to be crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is the practice of taking complex projects and tasks and breaking them down into smaller pieces to allow multiple people to work on the component elements that will later be assembled for a completed project. It differs from outsourcing in that the work is broken down and components are assigned or awarded to individuals, as opposed to taking an entire business process and assigning it to another entity for turnkey management. Like freelancing, crowdsourcing in its simplest form is not new.
One early example of crowdsourcing: the compilation of recipes for some of the first Betty Crocker cookbooks in the 1930s, the vast majority of which were submitted for free in hopes of winning one of General Mills’ contests. While the activities that constitute crowdsourcing are decades old, the term “crowdsourcing” was coined in 2006 by Jeff Howe, a writer for WIRED magazine, as a way to define and make sense of the emerging trend, facilitated by technology and accelerated by increasing worldwide access to high-speed internet and the competitive pressures of globalization.
Howe defines crowdsourcing as the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call. This can take the form of peer-production (when the job is performed collaboratively), but is also often undertaken by sole individuals. The crucial prerequisite is the use of the open call format and the large network of potential laborers (2006).
In an Alabama Law Review analysis of crowdsourcing in the context of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) the author further defines crowdsourcing as a process “where complicated tasks are broken down and distributed to thousands of workers throughout cyberspace, then later consolidated into a finished product (Cherry, 2009, pg. 1079).
Today’s crowdsourcing encompasses a variety of activities, many of which are a natural complement to current social media practices and technology. The more social applications of crowdsourcing include photo sharing, movie reviews and other word of mouth recommendations. However, there are dozens of areas where crowdsourcing begins to encroach upon traditional roles and employment opportunities, such as advertising, programming, writing, research, design, product development, and data analysis. Technology makes it possible to source this work instantly without following traditional hiring processes, and globalization puts United States workers in competition with a global labor market.