The Power of Crowdsourcing

The new pool of cheap labor: everyday people using their spare cycles to create content, solve problems, even do corporate R&D.

                                                                             —By Jeff Howe

What is crowdsourcing? In 2005, this term was coined; and in 2006, the definition has been published by Jeff Howe for the first time. After that, in global, crowdsourcing has been explored and applied by enterprises when they want to solve some certain problem effectively. Until now, it is still in adoption phrase.

To understand crowdsourcing well, we have to mention community, which is more familiar to us. Nowadays, the relationship between customer and brand becomes more and more intimate; and communities is helpful to enhance it. No matter with internet, advertise, or friends talk, customers are sharing information. At the same time, brands hope a better communication to improve themselves. For crowdsourcing, companies outsource the work through online activities to individuals, especially an online community. Providing various knowledge and creative ideas, the crowd could participate in design or innovation of products. Within suitable and useful management, brands could get benefits and solve their problem. Crowdsourcing makes full use of collective wisdom.


A problem solving mechanism

Have you asked questions in online communities, looking for the best solution from numerous answers? Crowdsourcing can be an effective and efficient problem solving mechanism. Such kind of crowdsourcing encompass a contributory participation model combining tagging, voting, identifying and transcribing. (Phillips, 2014) With the belief that more heads are better one, crowdsourcing gathers information and ideas from a crowd, generating better results. Most of such online communities do not operate for profits. Their smooth operation is the outcome of effective task matching techniques from the crowdsourcers and the reputation based incentive from the crowdsourcees.

Quora, a public question-and-answer site, is a typical example. Its users create and answer questions as well as vote and suggest edits to other users’ answers. For the online Q&A platform, there are two main problems: how to pass the question to those who have already known the answer? how to guarantee the quality of the answers?

For the first problem, Quora uses topic and tagging to help crowdsourcers achieve effective task matching, which links the questions to the right crowd-members. Crowdsourcees follow the topic they are interested in while the crowdsourcers tag the keywords of their questions so the connection between those two parts is built.

For the second problem, Quora insists the real-name-registry to increase credibility, forcing users to “stand behind” their contents and keeping contents in comparatively high quality. Moreover, with upvote and downvote, all users can evaluate the quality of the answers and generate a ranking algorithm for the answers. Real identities and voting system encourage users to build their own reputation as well as give chances to judge the reputation of others. Thus, building reputation becomes a motivator for high-quality answers as well as a source of personal satisfaction during the participation.

Such a problem solving mechanism is also applied to the non-profit organization and government organization. Picnic Green Challenge collects ideas for saving the planet from the public ( Governments form e-goverment leverage the public knowledge.

An enterprise business tool

Among crowdsourcing cases, crowdsourcing is widely applied in service for product and enterprise. How does the participation of enterprise affect the operation of crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing can be divided to two types in terms of purpose. The first type aims for the development of product. Company outsource implementation of the tasks to public through voluntary. This model can be called “Crowdsource Design”. Especially in the design of products, crowdsourcing can help enterprises to collect consumer preferences faster and more accurately. Crowdsource Design can also be used to any designs for advertisements, fashion and product design. Starbucks had ever used crowdsourcing to design logo in 2011. Starbucks used third-party crowdsourcing website, which is still very effective for enterprise to accomplish the tasks about products and services. (


The second one aims for the overall business services. Before talking about that, what is the difference between these two types of enterprise crowdsourcing? The difference is that the first enterprise crowdsourcing is a short-term operation, while the second one is the long-term operation and would continue throughout the business process! Such crowdsourcing can help company to collect customer feedback. Here we can still use the example of Starbucks to illustrate it. The website’s name is “My Starbucks Idea”( People can give their own opinion about Starbucks on this website. And then Starbuck collects various ideas and suggestions, not only for poduct itself, but also for all aspects of the service.


The mass interacting platform

Some platforms, where everyone can make a review, rating or recommendation, successfully use crowdsourcing to connect customers and companies. For instance, Urbanspoon, as a leading online restaurant, massively collects a wide spectrum of the genuine opinions from its users so as to create a community that constantly appeals to new restaurants and new users, which is virtuous cycle for this platform to grow.

Urbanspoon posts a large number of local menus on its site. Due to the restaurant diversity, some of menu items and ingredients or fancy names of common foods are unfamiliar to visitors, like bibimbap or escabeche. That’s the problem that needed to be solved. Fortunately, Urbanspoon found a way to make the previews of local menus for foreign visitors. A culinary dictionary is decided to make on its site to define more exotic items and to make local restaurants information available for “hungry” visitors. However, Another problem appears. It is just an over-sized task for the team to define and explain hundreds of ingredients and dishes.

Crowdsourcing timely handled the difficulty by developing a team of experienced writers who had came up with recipes and food-related content in the past to craft the dictionary. They even developed a practical system that not only allowing writers to categorize the dish or ingredient, bus also enable them to share the resembled tastes.

With crowdsourcing, the user’s experience is improved by providing them not just a restaurant search and review site, also an educational resource for them to learn more about new food definition peppered with fun facts, taste attributes and associated flavors.


Clearly, crowdsourcing could be a powerful weapon when comes to marketing problems. No matter to improve sales, or promote creativity, or raise awareness of brand, individuals or  online community will give the solution by collective wisdom. Although public are not so familiar with it, crowdsourcing do help companies solve problem; it is a new and useful business model to sell brand; and it becomes a platform that customer and brands achieve a win-win situation. So, crowdsourcing, why not?

Authors: Chenwen LIU; Jiahui ZHANG; Xiangting WANG; Yuanqing CAO



Brabham, D. (2008). Crowdsourcing as a Model for Problem Solving: An Introduction and Cases. Convergence: The International Journal Of Research Into New Media Technologies, 14(1), 75-90.

Ovsyannykov, I. (2011). Case Study: Crowdsourcing for a New Starbucks Logo. Retrieved 7 October 2016, from

Phillips, L. (2014). Why You’ll Never Hear Me Call Wikipedia “Crowdsourcing”. Retrieved 7 October 2016, from

Shingles, M. & Trichel, J. (2014). Industrialized crowdsourcing. DU Press. Retrieved 7 October 2016, from


3 thoughts on “The Power of Crowdsourcing

    1. Of course there are pitfalls. For example, some answers are misleading, giving you a wrong direction. Some answers are at low quality. All those problems need to be solved by the crowdsourcing websites.


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