The Web's Collective Mind

Photograph of a massive crowd

Crowdsourcing: The Web's Collective Mind


An estimated 1 million workers have been paid between $1-2 billion for crowdsourcing projects.

THOUGHT: Crowdsourcing, if you’re unfamiliar with the concept, is the practice of leveraging the world wide communication infrastructure of the Internet to enable anyone, anywhere, at any time to collaborate on a common project.

The concept began to dawn on companies during the nineties when they discovered crowdsourcing happening spontaneously. After putting up customer service forums on their site, eBay found that people who frequented the forums would often help one another with problems or issues they encountered using eBay. eBay’s customers were themselves often the company’s best customer service reps.

But deliberate crowdsourcing really has its roots in the open source movement, where software developers used the Internet to collaborate on creating alternative versions of popular software applications that were free for anyone to use, modify, and improve. The software code itself was given to the public and, thus, was “open.” The Linux operating system and the Apache server software were early examples of open source software but the blogging platform this blog uses, WordPress, is perhaps the model of crowdsourced software.

The core WordPress software and its countless plugins that extend the functionality of the software are all developed and refined by an international “crowd” of volunteers.

We are now seeing this concept becoming formalized in projects like Wikipedia, a crowdsourced encyclopedia,’s Mechanical Turk, which enlists humans to do things computers aren’t good at, like identifying objects in photographs, and Netflix’s challenge to developers to come up with a better algorithm for their movie recommendation engine.

In the communications world, you can see spontaneous crowdsourcing happening all the time in the public’s reaction to products, services and even advertising.

Just ask Motrin about moms.

The Internet is one big focus group but you need to anticipate how people will react and have a communications plan in place for when they do.


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Thank you for flu vaccines.



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