Crowdsourcing, according to Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, is "the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people-especially from the online community."
It is a contraction, if you will, of the words "crowd" and "outsourcing," and its first known use was in 2006. And though it's not clear if Amazon.com was the first to use the word, it was certainly made popular by the company's Mechanical Turk project, which launched in 2006.
My colleague Ann All wrote:
It [Mechanical Turk] represents a fascinating effort to give companies access to multitudes of workers who will perform mundane tasks in exchange for very little money ... Translating text, compiling information from reports, and locating objects in photos are the kinds of tasks featured on Mechanical Turk thus far.
It's a concept that's caught on in several different areas of business in the last five years, from administrative tasks, to research and development, to IT. And SAP has even used crowdsourcing as a means of discovering new or overlooked risks the company should be addressing.
But in Monday's Huffington Post, blogger Paul Massey pointed out that some very prominent companies are also using it to maintain their reputations as socially responsible corporate citizens. He wrote:
[S]everal high-profile corporate social responsibility programs (CSR), in particular the Pepsi Refresh Project, Chase Community Giving and Target's Bullseye campaign, dominate the conversation of how companies are making a social impact. Any guesses as to the common element across these efforts? Crowdsourcing.
And they're doing it because it works. Massey pointed to research conducted by the Weber Shandwick Social Impact Team, which indicates that 95 percent of the survey respondents who use crowdsourcing find it valuable to their CSR efforts primarily because it "surfac[es] new perspectives and diverse opinions."