This year has seen crowdsourcing rapidly evolve. The advent of the Web 2.0 (or the social web) has made the possibility of mass collaboration easier than ever before.

The web is populated by people that will willing give their time and expertise to any idea that can motivate and inspire them. The wisdom of the crowd has never been more easily harnessed, and this year has already seen some exciting and inventive crowdsourcing methods.

Of course, crowdsourcing has been around for a while. It is engrained in the way the internet has develop – Wikipedia is created and edited by members of the public, software develops through the collaboration of programmers in an open source environment, and businesses have been using the internet to headhunt the right people for the job since the start.

But now, as the social web spreads across all areas of life, we are seeing an explosion in crowdsourcing experimentation. This is a lowdown of some of this years notable examples and recent developments.

Crowdsourced Government

The most popular recent example is the new UK coalition governments initiative to give the people a voice. Your Freedom and Spending Challenge are both websites designed to allow people to  shape government policy by both suggesting ideas and rating others. Whether it is finding areas to cut spending, or asking people what silly laws they would like repealed – the government seem to be going with the flow and using the web to communicate with the people.

However, these exercises seem to be more of a gimmick then a serious attempt to give the crowd a role in government. These sites don’t appear to have had any effect yet – and The Guardian has reported that none of the government departments involved in the project are willing to amend any of their policies – despite over 9500 responses.

It has always been possible to ask the population what they want (and how much they want it) through established research companies. These websites, although exciting,  seem to be nothing more than a PR exercise by a governement wanting to project an image that they are digitally savvy and care about the peoples opinion.

Although, some of the suggestions do make for interesting reading…

TellYouGov – Real Time Reaction

Online polling company YouGov have introduced a new service that allows members to express opinion and comment on any topic that they want.

TellYouGov is simple to use – you enter either  a brand, name, concept etc into one box, choose whether you feel positively or negatively about it and then leave a comment. This real-time public sentiment allows people to express their views on anything, and makes people feel heard and valued.

The results are recorded and YouGov have a search bar that allows you to find a brand/celebrity and track their popularity (or lack of) over time. They provide a simple volume/score graph  and a long list of all the comments users have left.

It is even utilising Twitter – a member can post “Avatar + amazing special effects #tellyougov” to indicate a positive sentiment about the film.

This service has massive potential if it grows. It already has quite a few users all regularly registering their sentiment – and YouGov also offer a regular prize for members to keep the service buliding momentum.

Crowdsolving – NetFlix and the Oil Spill

Of course, the crowd won’t always have something interesting to say. When DVD rental website NetFlix wanted to improve its film recomendation service they needed a unique programmer.

But instead of hiring an expensive agency, NetFlix chose to run an incentivised competition with an award of $1,000,000 to the best solution. It worked – by using the crowd as a communication mechanism they had solved their problem.

Crowdsolving is also being used to combat the environmental damage caused by the oil leak. As BP struggled to contain the leak, websites began appearing that allowed experts, and non experts, to post suggestions to cap the leak. More recently the Schmidt Family Foundation has announced a competition with a prize of $1.4 million to anyone that can develop a way to help clear up the spill.

This competetion is also keeping people aware of the long term damage the leak will cause – rather than allowing the story to fizzle away from the media. Both examples show how using the crowd to communicate a message can be extremely effective – either to get the message heard or keep it alive.

Foldit – Gaming and Crowdsourcing

One problem that any potential crowdsourcing project faces is the question of how to get people to take part. A financial incentive is not always the most effective way to increase participation, especially if the funding is limited and the task is massive!

The solution is to look at what encourages humans to take part – gaming. One recent crodsourcing success has been the combination of online multiplayer competition with scientific research – Foldit.

As anyone that has been hooked to Tetris will know – simple games can be furiously addictive. Foldit transforms the boring and long task of understanding proteins into a game where you are scored on how well you put a protein structure together. This is a task that a computer doesn’t perform very effectively and can only be effectively done by human input.

This is just one of many recent examples of gaming being applied to help solve problems in the real world. Jane McGonigal is a passionate believer in the power of games to aid progress. She recently delivered an excellent speech at TED that is well worth a watch!

Her most recent work is the game Evoke which has recruited a team of players to tackle the world’s most pressing problems. Focusing on a problem a week – it intends to teach people through simulated environments. The game has recieved funding from the world Bank Institute and looks set to make a large splash when it picks up momentum.


HelpMeInvestigate is a collaborative investigative reporting website that encourages people to get involved with  investigations that capture their interest. It looks like it will become particularly effective when a large amount of regional reporting is needed  – such as checking local MP’s election campaign expenses.

I have blogged about this website before. In my opinion it is truly leading the way in next generation investigation methods. It is using all aspects of social media to powerfully communicate with members and is allowing people to feel part of something big!

And one not so useful example

HeinzRocket is an agency that provides advertising solutions to companies by using a crowd of over 1000 artists. Their most recent endeavour has been to crowdsource a new name for crowdsourcing by offering a £1000 prize. With stupid examples ranging from “Grapes of Wrathing” to ‘Massideation” – this perhaps shows how crowdsourcing can go a bit too far.