What is Crowdsourcing?

An Iconic Concept of the Global Digital Economy?

Joaquín Solerby Joaquín Soler, Vice President of Supply Chain at Welocalize

What is crowdsourcing? Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson, editors at Wired magazine, coined the term in 2005 after conversations about how businesses were using the Internet to outsource work to individuals. They gave crowdsourcing its first official definition in 2006:

the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call. This can take the form of peer-production (when the job is performed collaboratively), but is also often undertaken by sole individuals. The crucial prerequisite is the use of the open call format and the large network of potential laborers”

Crowdsourcing has been an on-going subject of debate and analysis, not just in localization but in general. Over the past years, several aspects have been reviewed, deleted and added to the definition of crowdsourcing.

Looking back in history, many would be surprised (so was I) to encounter an early predecessor of what we could consider crowdsourcing. As far back as the mid 19th century, a call was put out for volunteers to identify words of the English language and provide samples of their usage, the aim being to compile the Oxford English dictionary. At the time these contributions would be made by mail, on paper and more than six million of them were gathered over 70 years.  The first crowdsourcing success story.

Why such success? I can only imagine that the reason why this call raised such a level of engagement among the public was that they felt that by contributing to this initiative they would improve their lives. This was a goal that was worth working for and that provided a level of personal satisfaction and pride. The English language belongs to all its speakers and the Oxford English Dictionary shares its values back to society.

Everyone will have experienced some form of crowdsourcing. I have seen films depicting a crowd of neighbors gathering voluntarily one Sunday to rebuild the burnt-down house and barn of a fellow member of the community. However, the development of a dictionary by a crowd really gets my attention because it has language at its base. I guess it is difficult to imagine something that is more equally and democratically shared among a community than the language spoken.

122177295Crowdsourcing has become an iconic concept of the new collaborative, truly global economy. It belongs in the same family as crowdfunding, crowd computing, crowd-casting. The latest definitions that I have encountered modify the original one by adding references to the internet as the necessary platform, possible financial compensation and reverting value back to society. A number of studies on crowdsourcing deal with issues like organization of the jobs, micro-payments, maintenance and management of the crowd, quality expectations and assurance, scheduling and project completion. It seems obvious that the term now includes more than volunteer work and migrates into the category of production models.

In the localization world, it is easy to guess that the main candidate to explore this production model is the user-generated content (UGC). I find that the reason is not only that this type of content is experiencing the biggest growth, or that its durability is limited and the quality expectations adjusted, also its origin and purpose. UGC is volunteered in order to share information with others, regardless of its unquestionable commercial value in terms of brand definition and user experience, aiming at generating influenced revenue.

Definitely, the crowd has become significant in the increasingly complex localization supply chain and has its specific role. Understanding what types of UGC can be supported this way and progressing in the ability to manage crowds and projects (profiling, recruitment, maintenance, performance, deadlines) are the two key aspects that will allow the industry to reach the full potential of this production model.

One of the risks to avoid is the categorization of crowdsourcing as one unique flat model. Crowds, as intangible and blurred as they may seem, can actually be managed to obtain a certain configuration that is more suitable for the content and the production cycle defined. Intelligent testing itineraries and questionnaires, quality sampling and data gathering will reduce the anonymity and facilitate management of talent, competencies and skills. With the support of a solid technology platform to process jobs adequately, the uncertainties around successful project completion by a crowd can be managed to meet the customer’s expectations.


Joaquín Soler is VP of Supply Chain at Welocalize