The Long History of Crowdsourcing - and Why You're Just Now Hearing About It

By: CrowdSource | Published: August 15, 2013

Arguably the “In” thing for most businesses to embrace in one form or another today, crowdsourcing has existed for centuries. Our predecessors in government, business, science and other industries tapped into the collective knowledge and wisdom of the crowd, even if today some businesses are just getting started. These snippets of crowdsourcing’s history and evolution show you how crowdsourcing went from something with slow and steady traction to taking the world by storm with microtasks, outsourcing content writing, design and more to help explain why you’re just hearing about it.

Historical crowdsourcing

As early as 1714, crowdsourcing brought distributed problem solving to task. “The Longitude Prize” was offered by the British government to develop a reliable way to compute longitude. Later, King Louis IV of France offered a prize for making alkali from sea salt. The Oxford English Dictionary used 800 readers to catalog words in 1884. These and other applications of what we now call crowdsourcing are seen throughout the late 1800s to the late 1900s. They show us that infinite power lies in the crowd, and that power has been waiting to be discovered on a large scale for centuries.

Crowdsourcing before the cool kids did it

In the early 2000s, collective wisdom and all it offers started to gain recognition, thanks to the book “The Wisdom of Crowds” by James Surowiecki. During this period, innovating dot coms started making a name for themselves with the process not yet termed crowdsourcing. The crowdsourced T-shirt online retailer Threadless launched. Wikipedia crowdsourced knowledge, and YouTube crowdsourced video entertainment. was born. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk microtask platform launched and put into place a system that would continue to grow, evolve and revolutionize the way work gets done, from categorizing to outsourcing content marketing.

Revolution of crowdsourcing

Enter 2006. Wired’s Jeff Howe coined the term crowdsourcing with his “Rise of Crowdsourcing” article. Combined with the rapid growth of e-commerce, the age of the consumer, mobile technologies and social media in the last seven years, crowdsourcing has revolutionized just about any industry smart enough to utilize it. The world’s best global brands have increasingly used crowdsourcing to get things done, and as this interactive timeline shows, the year-over-year growth speaks for itself.

Crowdsourcing and outsourcing content writing

As crowdsourcing enters more and more areas of utilization, it’s growing as a tool for outsourcing content writing. For good reason. Creative talent? Check. Knowledgeable crowdworkers? Check. Scalability? Check. Cost-effectiveness? Check. A tool for dominating your industry with high-value content creation? Check. Content that sparks engagement? Check. What’s not to love about using crowdsourcing for content creation?

The future of crowdsourcing is limited only by how insightful, creative and innovative the businesses, governments, organizations and people of tomorrow aspire to be. What’s your favorite example of crowdsourcing, and what industries do you see changing the world with crowdsourcing?