The term ‘crowdsourcing’, coined by Wired magazine authors Mark Robinson and Jeff Howe, first entered the public domain in 2005 (a time when the idea crowdsourcing platform was a relatively new concept). However, it could be argued that the practice goes back to 1714, when the British government offered a cash prize to the citizen who could come up with the best solution to measure a ship’s longitudinal position. It’s also believed that similar competitions were held in Spain as far back as the 16th century.
The first truly major impact crowdsourcing had on shaping the modern world took place in 1884. In this year, the editors of the original Oxford English Dictionary placed an open appeal in local newspapers, asking people to submit definitions for as many words as possible – no matter how obscure. This tactic helped expand the dictionary and – subsequently – the lexicons of English speakers worldwide.
The enormous potential of crowdsourcing within the business realm became more widely recognized in the early 20th century. In 1916, the American peanut company Planters launched the very first logo crowdsourcing competition on record. A fourteen year old child was the winner – providing the design for the character ‘Mr. Peanut’ which continues to be used today.
The business crowdsourcing trend picked up steam towards the end of the century. In 1979, Nina and Tim Zagat demonstrated another lucrative application of crowdsourcing with their “Zagat” guide – a compendium of crowdsourced reviews of restaurants throughout New York City. The publication that emerged from the “Zagat” would eventually be sold to Google in 2011 for $150 million!
The paradigm-shifting arrival of the internet in the 1990s meant that crowdsourcing could now be practiced and managed with unprecedented ease. Sites like Wikipedia and iStock allowed users worldwide to contribute their knowledge efficiently, as well as find a wider audience for their creations. As a result, the theory and practice of crowdsourcing steadily became an increasingly predominant subject of analysis. Perhaps the seminal work analyzing the role of crowdsourcing in the business realm is James Surowiecki’s ‘The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few’ – a comprehensive work that details why large groups of people are often more adept at innovative problem solving than elite groups.
Today, across all corporate and government sectors, the role of crowdsourcing for producing disruptive, ROI-generating ideas is more central than ever before. In 2014, a study found that 85% of the biggest global brands had used crowdsourcing methodologies over the last decade, and that they were three times more likely to use a dedicated idea crowdsourcing platform than other companies. It is this trend, and the custom-configuration demands that have arisen with it, that has helped inform the development of Qmarkets’ crowdsourcing software over the years.