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is the public delegation of open source code or software from internal employees or associates to third-party developers and programmers. With the development of the Wikipedia:Winsock Trumpet Winsock software, first- and second- generation PCs could connect to the early internet, allowing the internet to explode in the late 1990s due to massive crowdsourcing, virtually allowing anyone to add new content to the internet. The result of this is the near-infinite number of unique web pages, web-based programs, and the rise of online social networks, and the open-internet model. With open source software, including software which has been crowdsourced for testing or development, ethical issues arise with regards to ownership of any resulting products and the exact definition of 'open' in open source software (GNU vs. freeware, etc).

Samsung's Android Logo is depicted above as Android OS has become one of the more successful examples of crowdsourcing.


“Crowdsourcing” was proposed by Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson in 2006 as the act of outsourcing workloads to larger networks in the form of an open call. More specific examples include tasks such as inviting the public to create and/or help to develop new technologies or participatory designs, to perform certain steps of an algorithm, or to help gather large amounts of data. [1] Additionally, crowdsourcing can be described as the public release of open source code or software from a company or corporation to third-party developers and programmers. Crowdsourcing is an innovative, powerful method in accomplishing many technological tasks and benchmarks with relative ease. The release of open source code under free software licensing systems has allowed third-party programmers to manipulate, revise, and innovate new applications for Linux and Android Operating Systems, and Android mobile markets. In particular, the open sourcing of Android's operating system lets programmers and developers tweak and make changes to Android's specifications that have changed the mobile phone markets; By cutting costs and generating millions of ideas in a more convenient way. The benefits of crowdsourcing give companies more incentive to release open source code to independent programmers and developers.

In 2008, Jeff Howe published a book called "Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business" that provides an overview of the drawbacks and benefits of crowdsourcing and its many applications in business, film, and research. [2]

Crowdsourcing is proposed by Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson in 06, June< Wired > magazines, which is the act that has been carried out by enterprise employees in the past and now being outsourced to the Network World unlimited groups

Additionally, Crowdsourcing could be described as generative, meaning that it allows for entities (such as the internet) to just "spring to life" without any central control. This is one of the key foundations of the modern internet. Jonathon Zittrain, author of "The Future of the Internet and How to Stop it" writes:
"From its start, the Internet was oriented differently from the proprietary networks and their ethos of bundling and control. Its goals were in some ways more modest. The point of building the network was not to offer a particular set of information or services like news or weather to customers, for which the network was necessary but incidental. Rather, it was to connect anyone on the network to anyone else. It was up to the people connected to figure out why they wanted to be in touch in the first place; the network would simply carry data between two points." [3]pg.27

Crowdsourcing is a growing trend in Asia. A crowdsourcing company in China called Zhubajie is the largest employer in the world with 7.6 million workers.[4]

Crowdsourcing in Research

Researchers at the University of Washington created a game called "Foldit" in an attempt to tap into the large population of gamers to crowdsource research results. The game asks players to predict protein structures, and in only three weeks, players were able to crack a protein structure that had been holding back AIDS research for over a decade. M-PMV, a protease enzyme in virus replication that mirrors the replication of HIV closely, had a structure that scientists were unable to uncover. The researchers knew the components of the protein, but it was simply a case of trial and error that the mass computing power of gamers was able to solve in a very short time. [5]

Crowdsourcing in Business

Crowdsourcing has been successful in companies you may have heard of such as Quora Search Engine, Twitter, Threadless Tees, Netflix, Crowdrise and Google among others.

Wikipedia: The Free Online Encyclopedia

Wikipedia relies on the individual edits of millions of its users to create, according to this Cnet report, an online repository of information gathered from the masses that is just as accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica, the longtime standard in encyclopedias. Wikipedia's core model relies on a hierarchy of anonymous contributors that help to ensure the accuracy of Wikipedia, while only having a skeletal staff officially part of the business. For more information, see the oversight structure of wikipedia.


Kickstarter is arguable the most prominent crowdsourcing platform and was founded in 2009 by Perry Chang, Charles Adler, and Yancey Strickler. Kickstarter is particularly unique because all donators to causes are rewarded in some unique way. Whether it be a copy of the product once it is released or a unique experience. Kickstarter is good for more creative projects and needs to have projects with an actual outcome or product, generally things which are tangible (instead of "starting a business"). You must reach your goal to receive the funding and if you do meet your goal Kickstarter will charge a 5% fee as well as an additional 2-5% processing fee [6].


On Threadless, artists can create their own t-shirt designs where other community members vote for their favorite designs. They use incentive-based marketing where members receive credit for referring friends that later become customers, and winning designers receive up to $2,000, but more importantly acknowledgment from their peers. It goes without saying Google Android has had success in the mobile phone market, and threadless tees parallel that success by giving consumers a chance to leave feedback on shirt designs and customize t-shirts like never before.


GoFundMe is a for profit crowdsourcing and funding platform that was developed in 2010 by Brad Damphoussse and Andrew Ballester [7]. GoFundMe is another very prominent crowdfunding platform and is tailored more towards getting funding for personal projects and goals. Things such as paying for medical bills, education, or development fees to start a business are all things that are common to see on GoFundMe. GoFundMe is best used for individuals and entrepreneurs hoping to get through the first hurdle of starting a project or business. Users have to set a "goal" and in order to receive payment, that goal must be met. If the goal is met, the company will take approximately 2 - 5% as a processing fee [6]


Linux is an open-source software developed by thousands of contributors both amateurs and professionals alike. Contributors disseminated the work to suit their own expertise. As more contributors submit their work, the reputability of Linux grows.

InnoCentive/ Proctor & Gamble

Proctor & Gamble used out-of-house research for product development and opened communication between departments. Researchers sought solutions for Proctor & Gamble, not only to receive compensation but to build their resume and to solve a meaningful challenge outside the workplace. The creation of Innocentive has helped triple P&G's net profit to $10 billion.

We Are the Strange

Mike Belmont, an amateur filmmaker created a fan base through YouTube without the help of movie producers and eventually premiering a movie at the 2007 Sundance Festival. By showing clips on YouTube, he was able to receive feedback and perfect his videos the liking of the audience. This marked an important change in movie production with no middle-man, cutting cost and allowing fans to become more personally invested in the movie.


eBird is an internet site where anyone can post bird sightings. Because of the large data submissions, they are able to identify the pattern of flights that would not be able tracked with just professionals. This gives the professionals more time to interpret the data.


Quora increased its reliability and popularity as a search engine and question answering forum through crowdsourcing. By granting users permission to vote answers and search links up or down, Quora combines aspects of Wikipedia with attributes of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook to give users a balanced, impeccable search engine and question and answer forum. Like Wikipedia, content can be linked to relevant topics and answers and edited if they are not operating to Quora’s crowdsourcing standard. The crowdsourcing components of Quora’s website and its' follow feature similar to Twitter have helped Quora to gain unprecedented success.


Netflix boldly offered one million dollars for its crowdsourcing contest. The challenge went to any programmers and developers who could build or improve upon Netflix’s current software and system of recommending movies to its subscriber base. Three years later, Netflix’s customer base is nearly 24 million and they are generating over 2 billion dollars in revenue.


Robert Wolfe, a serial entrepreneur, created Crowdrise which is an online fundraising site that uses crowdsourcing to get people to donate to various charities.


GAP's failed crowdsourcing attempt at rebranding themselves was represented by this new logo.

Unfortunately, crowdsourcing has had its failures as well. GAP Clothing's logo change was crowdsourced for public opinion and feedback that caused GAP to make certain decisions leading to the collapse of the company's financial structure and well-being. Crowdsourcing is beneficial in many cases, but this was not one of them. [8] GAP relied exclusively on crowdsourcing to generate feedback for its new logo and change in branding. A large response of negative public opinions does not necessarily equate to a need for change in real-world situations.[9] Instead of remaining confident in their new logo, GAP tried to reinvent their product image and positioning over and over again. As a result, GAP unintentionally distanced themselves even farther from their consumer base. Eventually, GAP collapsed financially and was forced to shut down.

Ethical Conflicts To Consider in Crowdsourcing

While crowdsourcing has the ability to produce successful outcomes for consumer businesses and improvements in technology, the ethical concerns mentioned below should be considered.


The conflict of ownership and patent use may be becoming a larger problem as the community of developers working on open source projects increases. Successes such as Google Android have been increasing their compatibility with Netflix, Quora, and the expansive mobile market. For example, the Android OS's ability to hold multi-core processors allows for advanced program capability, elicit File Sharing, storage, and availability. If a developer were to enhance the processing ability of Android 2.2, would Google have a patented share or would the developer have full control and ownership? Third-party developers are beginning to wonder though whether or not their programs and applications will be unique and owned by the creator, or if Google will authorize a policy in which they can patent or control a share of all profits from the third-party development of Android Operating System programs and applications. Another problem arises if a developer creates an application or program that improves upon the original open source code he or she obtained publicly. If the developer receives praise and profits from ameliorating another programmer's open source code, is he inclined or forced to acknowledge the original developer's contributions? These are some of the predicaments and ethical implications of crowdsourcing in today's information society.


Another inherent problem in crowdsourcing is the lack of accountability. If everyone is in charge, no one is responsible for their actions. This causes uncertainty and leaves users’ projects and creations to subjective and misguided errors. For example, what if someone created several fake accounts and purposely tried to give great feedback to irrelevant links or intentionally answer questions incorrectly on Quora? They could do this to humor themselves, or maybe they had an agenda in mind because they were pro-Google and against Quora for any arbitrary reason. If there were no checks and balances in place to correct these errors, crowdsourcing could potentially hurt a company or website's image and branding more than it would help.

Furthermore, crowdsourcing becomes a slippery slope when monetary transactions are involved, especially concerning a lucrative project. Users and donators to projects on popular crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe may feel an obligation to ownership over the said project. A notable example of ethical concerns surrounding crowdsourcing money for a project is the film continuation of Veronica Mars, a former CW show [10]. In 2013, Kristin Bell and Rob Thomas, lead actor and show creator of Veronica Mars respectively, made a video plea to fans to donate money on Kickstarter so that they may reach their goal of $1 million--enough to start production on a film. The campaign became the most-backed project on Kickstarter ever and collected $5.7 million in donations from just fans rather than any producers or company.

The ethical dilemma surrounding the Veronica Mars film lay in the sense of ownership and entitlement backers of the project--all 91,000 of them--may feel towards it. Thomas, also director and writer of the movie, stated that while there were different expectations when attempting to please a large studio than thousands of people who had funded your project. In this case, the ethical implications of accountability center on Thomas and the actors in his project that had made a case for their film to potential backers on Kickstarter. If a Kickstarter-funded movie performs poorly, some fans that donate their money to the film may attempt to hold the director accountable for the failure and demand some sort of reparations for a choice they made of their own volition.

Crowdsourcing in Other Sectors

Ushahidi's crowdsourcing platform utilized for the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill

Crowdsourcing is increasingly being utilized in the non-profit sector. Ushahidi, an open-source platform that aggregates user-contributed information in the form of an interactive GIS map, was developed during the 2007 Kenyan election violence. Since then, the platform has been extensively used in mapping natural disaster areas and rioting in the 2010 Haitian earthquake and the Japanese tsunami.

It appears that the designers of Ushahidi made the assumption that the context under which users would solely utilize the platform stems from a drive for social justice. The moral intentions behind the development of the application are apparent, yet not everyone who uses the system does so in the best interests of others’ safety and wellness - the revolution group PART-3’s threatened to use the platform to pinpoint foreign aid workers’ location and attack them. Also, seeing as Ushahidi has been used frequently in areas where there is a political uprising, it is possible that some people viewing and participating in the system sympathize with the government. Individuals who are members of the government may even be on the system, which can be detrimental to community organizers trying to use the app to unite citizens under oppression. They have assumed that the system’s users would be self-moderating and only post content relevant to the social issue the crowdsourced map is addressing, yet this is not always the as many users may post unintelligible content [11]


Proponents of crowdsourcing advocate believe that the products created through community development and design are superior in terms of creativity and often result in better quality results and products than those of other means. However, this assumption about crowdsourcing is not always necessarily true.

For example, oftentimes crowdsourcing does not fully engage the creativity of a diverse group of people. The digital divide that separates people from crowdsourcing infrastructure such as the Internet prevents many from participating in crowdsourcing's collective capability. Crowdsourcing products that seek to represent a wealth of diverse opinions are oftentimes solely limited to their greatest participants: mainly young, white males. Therefore, crowdsourcing's potential goal to seek out creative and diverse voices and opinions has not been fulfilled.


Additionally, crowdsourcing products may not be better in terms of quality. Crowdsourcing relies on consensus to craft or formulate its final product, and what a crowd thinks is the best, may not always be the most accurate. For example, Wikipedia, a crowdsourcing platform for maintaining a user-generated encyclopedia, can have misinformation if a statement is widely assumed to be true when it is not.

See Also


  1. Tingting Tan (2010). The innovation business model of blogs: crowdsourcing on web content producing. Proceedings of the 2010 International Conference of Information Science and Management Engineering, pp. 89-93.
  2. Howe, Jeff. Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business. New York: Crown Business, 2008. Print.
  3. Zittrain, Jonathan. The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008. Print.
  4. C. (2012, December 08). Crowdsourcing Is Booming In Asia. Retrieved April 19, 2018, from
  5. Gamers Crack AIDS Puzzle, 20 September 2011
  6. 6.0 6.1 Boogaard, Kat. The 8 Best Platforms for Crowdsourcing Your Funding
  8. Lippman, Greg. "Crowdsourcing Their Way Into One Big Mess." Brandweek: Vol. 51, Issue 38. 25 Oct 2010. Web. 3 Oct 2011: 26.
  9. O'Neil, Mathieu. "Shirky and Sanger, or the Costs of Crowdsourcing." Journal of Science Communication. SISSA International School for Advanced Studies, 1 Sept 2010. Web. 3 Oct 2011.
  10. John, E. (2014, March 13). Veronica Mars, the movie: 'Fans gave the money, there was all this pressure' <>
  11. Ushahidi

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