Crowdsourcing, a term that was coined by Jeff Howe of Wired Magazine, is used to describe the procedure of outsourcing to a large body of independent workers rather than through a single entity or company. Crowdsourcing allows a company to connect with a widespread network of talent, but foregoes many of the quality controls that usually exist when outsourcing to a single company.

Companies that Crowdsource

Since 2005, crowdsourcing has become very popular for both governments and businesses to gather data and opinions. Crowdsourcing is primarily used to complete small tasks or receive small bits of information, as larger and more complex tasks are not well-suited to the platform. Run by, the “Mechanical Turk” crowdsourcing platform is one of the largest open crowdsourcing platforms in the world.

Types of Crowdsourcing

There are many types of crowdsourcing, and not all are done with financial motives. Crowdvoting or polling is often used as a method for getting information from crowds about their opinions, while creative crowdsourcing involves numerous individuals in a creative work. On the other end of the spectrum, crowdfunding is a special type of crowdsourced product that is used as a method for generating funds: crowdfunding seeks small amounts from many individuals to fund businesses, creative projects, charities and more.

As far as tasks go, crowdsourcing tasks usually occur on either the macro or micro scale. Microwork denotes very small amounts of work for very low amounts of pay, and is what the popular platform “Mechanical Turk” does. Macrowork is a larger amount of work that requires specialized skills and usually takes much longer. Crowdsourcing is more popular with microwork than macrowork.

Major Concerns With Crowdsourcing

The main drawback of crowdsourcing is a lack of quality control. Especially with microwork, crowdsourcing tends to be of a very low quality–it’s mostly suited towards work that does not have to be done accurately but simply needs to get done. Crowdsourcers themselves have their own set of concerns, mostly ethical and financial: crowdsourcers tend to be from low income economies and some believe that their willingness to work for such low rates is being unfairly capitalized upon.

Many workers that complete crowdsourced tasks are making less than the minimum wage in their region, but because crowdsourcing is a global network there are no protections for the workers. The workers are also independent contractors, leaving them responsible for their own taxation. All of these factors together have led some to conclude that crowdsourcing leads to the exploitation of developing countries while devaluing the work of those in developed countries.