“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”
-Helen Keller (maybe)
What is Crowdsourcing?
Venturing into the age of the internet, absolutely no stones were left unturned in the optimization of how we function in our daily lives. Earning a college degree, dating, and even getting your groceries shipped to your doorstep. Things you would never dream of doing from the comfort of your home 20 years ago, are now readily available to anyone with an internet connection.
But what about innovation? The saying ‘two minds are better than one’ can be taken to the extreme. What about 1,000 minds? 10,000 minds? 1 million minds? All this is possible, and being taken advantage of, with the idea of ‘Crowdsourcing’.
Inception and the Longitude Prize
The idea of using a crowdsourcing to accomplish a goal isn’t something that is necessarily connected to the internet. Although access to the web has made it exponentially easier, examples of crowdsourcing date back all the way to the 18th century.
The Longitude Prize was one of the first examples of using the masses to solve a difficult problem. Transatlantic trips were becoming more and more popular, but unfortunately, there was one small problem; they had no idea how to determine where exactly they were.
Sea Watch courtesy of John Harrison
Even though latitude could be easily figured out using the position of the sun, longitude was another story. The idea of dead reckoning, or calculating your position relative to another previous position, was…for lack of a better term; a pain in the ass. It was inaccurate and overly complex to the point of near uselessness.
Thinking on their feet, the British government proposed the Longitude Prize in 1714 to anyone who was able to come up with a practical method to determining the longitude of these wayward voyagers.
With varying prizes based on efficiency, they proposed a maximum reward of £20,000 to anyone able to provide a way to determine longitude of a ship in less then 30 minutes.
And it totally worked. Kinda.
Offering up varying monetary prizes to over a dozen people, John Harrison became the true champion of this project. Making his first submission with his ‘sea watch’ at the age of 21, he spent the next 45 years, until the ripe old age of 80, perfecting the idea and amassing over £23,000 in the process.
‘Manthan’ and Crowdfunding
Manthan, a Hindi film directed by Shyam Benegal, had a rather obscure and unconventional plot which examines the real ‘milk cooperative movement’ of the mid 20th century in India.
But how are you going to fund a movie about dairy regulation and distribution?
You ask the dairy farmers of course. Getting funding from the 500,000 members of the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation, they were able to fund the film with a donation of 2 Rupees a piece from each of the members.
This would be one of the most obscure, but innovative, examples of ‘crowdfunding’ to exist at the time. Now people are using crowdfunding to make potato salad. No seriously, it’s a thing, and they raised over $50,000.
Wikipedia and the Age of Information
By far the best, and certainly the most useful, implementations of crowdsourcing is with the creation of the website Wikipedia.org, in 2001. An online free encyclopedia, it catalogs anything and everything you could possibly imagine from the world we live in. But how are they able to document all that information? By using the internet as their chief source of information and citation.
Outsourcing all the research to the billions of free internet using people, it has amassed over 40 million articles in it’s database. With a pseudo peer review process, it officially provides unofficial information, completely for free, to the rest of the world.
With zero advertisement, it is run solely on the donations of its users, making it a website operated and funded almost entirely by the people it is meant to serve. Online research (including the research for this article) has become nearly a one-stop-shop for anything you could possibly need to know.
Abuse of the ‘Crowd’
Unfortunately, when you seek the help of the masses, sometimes there are some people looking to take advantage of the process. With the websites like Kickstarter.com and GoFundMe.com, you can find crowdfunding for almost anything you could possibly need money for, including people who are willing to bullish*t the crowd out of their money.
The face of an assh*le
One of the worst examples is of crowdfunding fraud comes via Fallon Mouton of Texas. Mouton faked her identity on GoFundMe.com, pretending to be Moses Perez, the husband of the recently passed Jessica Rodriguez of Austin, Texas. Asking for donations to fund funeral expenses and promoting it on Facebook, Mouton raised over $4,500 and simply ran away with the money.
Mouton proved to be the sister of a coworker to Rodriguez, and once the money was raised, she withdrew the money from the GoFundMe.com account and disappeared.
She was later tracked down in Louisiana and arrested on charges related to fraud, but the Perez never saw the money from the original fundraiser.
If you are looking to get into the crowdsourcing community, here are some projects right now that you can take part in:
- Encyclopedia of Life-Online resource to document all the living species known to man
- OpenStreetMap-An ever changing map of the world, updated and maintained by its users
- Dickens Journals Online-A project to convert all of Charles Dickens written work into digital speech
- Waze-Traffic map with accidents and traffic jams reported by its users
- Lego-Allowing users to submit designs for new products, and the best designs get manufactured with a percentage of the revenue going to the submitter