Crowdsourcing (the process of using an open call contest or a 'crowd' of people to get something done) is a buzz word that was coined in Wired Magazine by author Jeff Howe in 2006, but the process of crowdsourcing was invented as early as 1714.  Since then, crowdsourcing has helped create some of the world's greatest inventions and biggest brands.  This blog outlines the history of crowdsourcing and highlights some 6 examples (historical and recent) that occurred before the term 'crowdsourcing' existed.

The History of Crowdsourcing

1714: The Longitude Prize
In 1714, the British Government was stuck for a solution to what they called  "The Longitude Problem" which made sailing difficult and perilous (killing 1,000s of seamen every year).  Seeking innovation, the British Government offered £20,000 for people to invent a solution (£20,000 in 1714 is around $4.7 million dollars in 2010).  This is possibly the first ever example of crowdsourcing.  The contest, considered almost unsolvable, was won by John Harrison, the son of a carpenter.  Harrison invented the 'marine chronometer' (i.e. an accurate, vacuum sealed pocket watch).  The aristocrats were hesitant to award Harrison the prize but eventually paid him the £20,000.  This example of crowdsourcing is a fantastic one because it highlights one of the principles of crowdsourcing - innovation and creativity can come from anywhere.

1936: Toyota Logo Contest
In 1936, Toyota held a logo contest to redesign its logo.  They received 27,000 entries and the winning logo was the three Japanese katakana letters for "Toyoda" in a circle, which was later modified by Risaburo Toyoda to "Toyota".

Toyota Crowdsourced Logo

1955: The Sydney Opera House
In 1955 the Premier of NSW state of Australia, Joseph Cahill, ran a contest offering £5,000 to design a building for part of Sydney's Harbour.  The contest received 233 entries from 32 countries around the world.  The winning design is one of the most innovative landmarks.  Architectural contests continues to be a popular model for getting buildings designed.

Sydney Opera House Crowdsource

2000 to 2006: YouTube, Wikipedia, Threadless founded
During this period innovative dot coms - now bookmarked household staples - began to launch and take-off.  Not always used as crowdsourcing examples, but in reality:

Youtube = crowdsourced entertainment / TV

Wikipedia = crowdsourced knowledge

Wikipedia crowdsource

2002 to 2006: American Idol
In 2002, American Idol Season kicked off Kelly Clarkson's career as well as a plethora of talent contests So You think You Can Dance, Next Top Model, Masterchef.  These contests, often described as 'reality TV' are, at their core, public crowdsourcing contests that aim to produce an album, a cook book or a superstar (along with entertainment for 1 billion plus people).

American Idol Crowdsourcing

2006: Crowdsourcing
Jeff Howe coins the term crowdsourcing in Wired Magazine article in June 2006.

2006 to 2050: Crowdsourcing Explodes
An explosion of crowdsourcing related websites.  From DesignCrowd (our site!) to Groupon to Digg - a large percentage web-based start-ups now rely on "the crowd".

This article was written by Alec Lynch founder of graphic design crowdsourcing service DesignCrowd.

Written by DesignCrowd on Thursday, October 28, 2010

DesignCrowd is an online marketplace providing logo, website, print and graphic design services by providing access to freelance graphic designers and design studios around the world.