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  • Writer's pictureHugo Pinto

Crowdsourcing is the best product of the social, mobile, cloud and data revolutions

Almost any one user of the World Wide Web has used social media at some point. Around 80% of all Internet users visit a social media website once per month and at least 60% of those use it on a daily basis. At this point Social Media has taken over the mobile phone; keeping users more engaged than e-mail, messaging and yes, phone calls!

One thing currently observed is 

Social Media is giving back power to the people (users), allowing each of us to make a difference. Many companies and people are trying to understand how they can mobilise users to contribute to a single cause, especially when exploring the fact that most of us are smartphone users, our data is on the cloud and available 24/6/365 and we’re generating more data than ever before. This data is being used for something, and if it’s not, it could be, especially because reaching anyone in the world has become very easy and direct.

This involuntary, scattered and sometimes anonymous collaboration is typically known as crowdsourcing, and its pinnacle is none other than Wikipedia.

Many are already involved in such processes (even if they don’t know it – Facebook’s mood manipulation experiment) but there’s a need to understand how it’s being enabled so we can all embrace it, after we understand how it’s already changing the way we experience knowledge, learning and decision-making.

So why is crowdsourcing such a hated buzzword every tech giant is trying to include in their mission statements?

The reasons used varies with the size of the organization, or the stakeholder, but mobile, social, cloud and data are the 4 strongest living proof-points, and they have been on the making since the internet first transformed, soon after the dot-com bubble burst, in the late 90’s. The four together will help change the the economy, the world, and especially us.


Give users something valuable and you can demand for something in return. Waze gives users a way to evade traffic jams or plan their routes more efficiently and they get location data in return. The users advertise the business because the more there are, the more accurate it becomes. And this just builds more momentum for adoption. Gamification comes next, helping engage users further, and motivating them to compete and stand out – 

Maslow explains it clearly. We just have to find ways of adjusting our operating models to what drives personal motivation, and social is the key tool to make this happen.

Social Networks are allowing users to share their personal data with other apps and services, which saves you the hassle of creating a new account and set of login details – and 44% of Internet users see Facebook as the preferred social login service. They are becoming the key data storage points for our connected lives and behaviours – and don’t forget almost everything is connected now.


What if you could still give something valuable to a user and demand no effort in return – the passive crowdsourcing. With sensors included in everything we own, passive crowdsourcing is booming especially answering the “where” question, and adding this information to the “when”. Example: we knew when a customer decided to buy a product, but now we know where. Facebook and Google explore this (and sometimes not in the best way) and are beginning to profit from it – but most other brands are still lagging behind.

Remember SETI – 

Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence – at home? They were the first example of crowdsourcing i can remember. You could spare a percentage of your PC’s processing capability to analyse a portion of space searching for ET’s. Soon they’ll do this using your phone.


With the standardization of cloud-powered infrastructures and services every user expects their best experiences to be replicated in any device and at any time. Any developer or brand must take this into consideration if they are hoping to succeed! This also means anyone can contribute to any process from anywhere and at any time.

A good example is 

Captcha – anyone using any connected device can contribute to machine learning helping to decode real characters while authenticating a human user instead of a machine, automatically – Oxymoron alert!


In 1998, Professor Alex “ Sandy” Pentland of the MIT Media Lab, wrote a fantastic paper entitled: Wearable Intelligence. Back then we had a backpack with a computer, head camera and a bunch of sensors to work on the basics of what we know today as Google glass. The only thing missing back then was a standardized use of all these in our smartphones, fuelbands and all the other sensors we carry around and record all sorts of information. Data has taken huge leaps and has helped us understand reality instead of extrapolating on it, allowing the creation of the business models of the future.

RTB (Real Time Bidding) technology is driving the media industry to new heights using data that we couldn’t process before, and making even more relevant. And most of the anonymous information used by these systems is crowdsourced by users of numerous apps, websites, mobile devices and social networks.

I guess the real revolution is when apps like Withings are the standard in medical care. Effortless tracking of vitals and habits can now be interpreted, processed, and monitored from your mobile phone and most diseases will be identified even before they happen – I know it sounds creepy, but I do love Minority Report, so my apologies. So we can expect the same to happen with trends and tracking health policies, especially if we all crowdsource the data required to make this happen.


The processing capability increase in computing, along with the cost and size of hardware are creating the conditions for a quantum leap in artificial intelligence, and Big Data is helping answer as many questions as the ones we ask.

The real question is how businesses will face the crowdsourcing opportunity leveraging levels of trust with their core business clients with the innovation potential of collaborating with them in defining new and improved experiences.

Some are trying and succeeding, others are failing spectacularly, and we’re mostly enjoying the show. How would you characterize the examples bellow: failure or success, and why?

DUOLINGO – Learning languages for free while translating the web

SHUTTERSTOCK – Submit and sell your photos in their platform for a cut of the profit

WIKIPEDIA – Collaborate in creating the biggest knowledge repository on the web

QUORA – Ask any question and others like you will answer – other users qualify those answers

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