by Daren C. Brabham

Daren Brabham defines crowdsourcing as “an online, distributed problem-solving and production model that leverages the collective intelligence of online communities to serve specific organizational goal.” He emphasizes that “the locus of control regarding the creative production of goods and ideas exists between the organization and the public, a shared process of bottom-up, open creation by the crowd and top-down management by those charged with serving an organization’s strategic interests.”

Threadless is a T-shirt company which uses crowdsourcing for product ideas. Doritos sponsors a contest where crowd members develop TV ads for the brand; the winner is aired during the Super Bowl. Peer-to-Patent was a pilot project in which the crowd reviewed patent applications to help the US Patent and Trademark Office identify “prior art.”

A benefit of crowdsourcing is that “outsiders can bring fresh insights to internal problems… A statistical analysis of the InnoCentive service… found that the Solver community was able to solve 29 percent of the problems that the Seekers—all large companies with internal labs and researchers—posted after they were unable to solve these problems internally. Moreover… Solvers on the margins of a disciplinary domain—outsiders to a give problem’s domain of specialty—performed better at solving the problem.”

Another benefit of crowdsourcing is that it can reduce risk. Threadless T-shirt designs and Doritos’ Super Bowl ad use a “peer-vetted creative-production approach… Because the crowd is the eventual user of the product, media content, or space, they are empowered to select the best ideas.”

The author writes about what motivates people to participate in crowdsourcing. Managerial commitment is important. In other words, the community members must feel confident their efforts are taken seriously by the organization. Additionally, Brabham writes about intrinsic motivators (e.g. enjoyment) and extrinsic motivators (e.g. financial rewards). The findings seem to vary depending on the community. “A study on Amazon Mechanical Turk… found that intrinsic motivators generate a higher quality of work from crowds than extrinsic motivators did… many of the most active Turkers average only $2 per hour.” Conversely, “at, a stock photography and illustration outsourcing company, I found that the opportunity to earn money and the opportunity to develop one’s creative skills trumped the desire to network with friends and other creative people and outranked other altruistic motivations.” (The author notes that “extrinsic rewards tend to undermine intrinsic motivation.” Deming wrote about this as well.)

Brabham’s definition of crowdsourcing excludes endeavors where the “locus of control” lies within either the community or the organization, rather than in between. “In Wikipedia or open-source software projects, the crowd is self-governing and provides its own strategic goals, and the organization is merely incidental to the work of the crowd.” In a campaign where consumers are invited to vote for the next flavor, control resides with the marketer and “the crowd becomes a mere pawn in the organization’s overall goals.” Crowdfunding also does not fit the definition.

In the last chapter Brabham speculates on future trends in crowdsourcing.

Brabham, Daren C. Crowdsourcing. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2013. Buy from