An English translation of Homer’s Iliad. The Luchtsingel pedestrian bridge. A bowl of potato salad.
Bet you didn’t know it, but these are all examples of projects that were only completed, thanks to crowdsourcing. Most people would be more familiar with crowdfunding; but if you think about it, isn’t crowdfunding a type of crowdsourcing?
Crowdfunding is the sourcing of funds from interested backers to raise money for completing projects. In return, these backers receive rewards, which may be anything from an early copy of the product to equity in the venture.
Crowdsourcing on the other hand, involves the sourcing of ideas, solutions, designs from a group of people. It allows experts and amateurs alike to pitch ideas, towards solving a problem. We can thank the Internet for allowing so many people get connected and collaborate, but this type of collaboration has existed long before the Internet.
One of the earliest recorded examples of crowdsourcing was in completing the Statue of Liberty. When it first arrived in NYC in 1885, the base it stands on hadn’t been built. The city had little funds available and the group in charge of raising the money, the American Committee of the Statue of Liberty, was essentially tapped out.
This prompted Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of The New York World, to launch a fundraising campaign through his newspaper. He promised every backer that they’d get their name printed in the paper, no matter how small their donation. He also offered what could be called VIP perks, gold coins for those backers that gave the largest donations. A few months later, Pulitzer had raised over $101,000, enough to complete the statue’s base.
Crowdfunding has been used to see different types of projects to fruition; everything from local council parks to that 3d-printed thingamajig you didn’t know you needed. Now, there have been a thousand and one articles about the best crowdfunding projects.
But do you know you’re surrounded by purely crowdsourced projects everyday? Here are 10 projects you never knew are/were crowdsourced.
True fans of the brick know the frustration felt when you have an idea, but can’t seem to find the pieces to build it. LEGO knows this too and offers a unique solution. Through its Lego Ideas website, the brick manufacturer allows users design new LEGO sets. Any user can submit a design, and other members of the community vote on whether it should be created or not. If the design reaches 10,000 supporters, the design gets vetted by the LEGO Ideas board. If it gets a green light from them, it gets moved into the production phase.
This method of crowdsourcing allows the company produce sets that fans actually want, thus increasing their product base and profits. The creator also earns 1% of the net revenue their design brings in. If you’ve bought the Doctor Who and Companions or The Big Bang Theory LEGO sets, you have the Ideas community to thank for those sets.
Signing up for stuff online can be a bit of a hassle. First, you fill multiple fields with your details, then you get hit with the Captcha. Y’know, that jumble of letters and numbers that you have to type correctly to prove that you aren’t a spambot.
But taking the 10 seconds required to decode the average reCaptcha has far reaching benefits. In 2009, Google started digitizing decades of old newspapers and books, but the OCR software occasionally ran into snippets of text that it couldn’t translate into words. To get around this, the reCAPTCHA program presents the garbled text to users like you. To complete your sign-up, you enter the correct text and help Google with the digitizing process. ReCAPTCHA is currently used by over 100,000 websites and helps to transcribe over 40 million words per day!
8. Lay’s Chips
If you’ve ever enjoyed Lay’s Cheesy Garlic bread chips, you have Karen Weber-Mendham to thank. In 2013, the mum from Wisconsin won the Frito-Lays Do Us A Flavor Contest, where consumers were invited to create their own flavor of chip.
The company ran the crowdsourcing campaign to find new flavors for their Lay’s Potato chips, with a prize of $1 million or 1% of the new flavor’s net sales (whichever is higher.) The winning flavor beat out Chicken and Waffles and Sriracha, and contributed to an 8% sales increase for Lay’s in the three months following its launch.
The 2013 contest was a first for the chip maker in the US, but it had done similar campaigns with its Walkers brand in the U.K. In 2008, Emma Rushin won £50,000 after suggesting the ‘Builder’s Breakfast’ flavor, a combination of bf bacon, buttered toast, eggs and tomato.
7. The Opera House, Sydney
It’s not just food and toys that have enjoyed the crowdsourcing treatment. Some of the most iconic buildings across the globe came about from a sourcing of ideas. In 1955, a design competition was launched, calling for designs for the Sydney Opera House.
233 architects, from 32 countries, submitted proposals for a large hall that could seat 3,000 and a smaller hall for 1,200 people. It took two years for the iconic shell design by Danish architect JØrn Utzon to be selected.
Today, his idea for the sail-like arches is one of Sydney’s most iconic landmarks and one of the 20th century’s most distinctive buildings.
6. Plotting Longitude
Before the advent of modern seagoing vessels, travel by sea was slow, dangerous and often led to death. Countless lives were lost on transoceanic journeys due to wrong calculation of the vessel’s heading and speed. Latitude was relatively easy to calculate as it was plotted from the altitude of the sun at noon; but when calculating longitude, sailors often resorted to guessing and intuition. The high death toll resulting from erroneous calculations led to many countries offering rewards to anyone who could find a way to accurately calculate longitude.
After the Scilly naval disaster of 1707, where 1,550 sailors lost their lives, the British government offered rewards of up to £20, 000 (over £4 million today) to anyone who could find practical ways to precisely determine a ship’s position (longitude) at sea. In 1737, British carpenter and clockmaker John Harrison invented the marine chronometer, a device that could solve the longitude problem.
New Year, New Me, right?
If one of your goals in your ‘New Me’ quest is learning a new language, you’ve probably considered downloading one of the many language apps available. One of the more popular learning platforms is Duolingo as the platform is one of the few that allows users learn languages for absolutely free.
Duolingo allows users to sign up and create language courses, that other students take for free. The company makes money by ‘outsourcing’ a translation service for organizations like CNN. Guess who translates this content? Yup, the students learning for ‘free’, on the platform.
Some see this as exploitation, but Duolingo sees it as practice for the students. Either way, it’s an example of modern crowdsourcing where everybody wins.
When Napoleon invaded Europe in the 18th century, he soon ran into major logistics problems. On long marches between campaigns, feeding his troops proved difficult, due to the harsh European winters and lack of fresh produce.
To find a solution to this, the French military offered a prize of 12,000 francs in 1795, to anyone who could come up with the most effective means of preserving food. Tapping into his experience as a candy maker, vintner and brewer, Parisian chef Nicolas Appert soon devised a winning solution. The chef placed the food in glass jars, sealed the opening with cork and sealing wax to make an airtight seal. He then placed the jar in boiling water to expel any air in the jar; his method was better than any at the time, as it allowed the food to be preserved without losing its taste.
The modern method of using cans, instead of glass jars, to preserve food was based off Appert’s pioneering method.
Like most of us, I bet you turn to the combo of Google and Wikipedia, when looking up any information. But did you know that Google itself is one of the biggest examples of crowdsourcing in action? Think about it: it’s simply a search engine that pulls back the information. Does Google create the information? Nope, but by simply being a ‘middle man,’ they’ve become the number one search engine in the world.
Their crowdsourcing efforts extend to almost all their service. If you use Google Translate, you’ll notice the link inviting you to “Suggest An Edit” if you feel the translation returned is wrong. With their annual Doodle4Google competition, children compete to create a logo that will be featured on the Google homepage.
2. The Luchtsingel Bridge
Collaboration among like-minded people doesn’t only happen online. In cities across the globe, citizens are pooling ideas and funds to improve their environment in different ways. Civic crowdsourcing and crowdfunding has been used to improve existing or dilapidated facilities in many different countries.
To create a more pedestrian-friendly environment, the Luchtsingel pedestrian bridge was constructed in Rotterdam in 2013. The bridge helps pedestrians get across one of the city’s busiest roads, connecting the old city center with the livelier northern districts.
Short of funds, the architectural firm chosen, launched a crowdfunding campaign. One of their coolest perks was allowing backers to be ‘part’ of the bridge itself. In the construction, they used U-shaped planks that were individually stamped with each donor’s name. The project, I Make Rotterdam, had a slogan that said “The more you donate, the longer the bridge”. In under a year, the project raised enough money to build a 390-meter long structure.
Like most motorists, you probably use the GPS app on your phone A LOT. Bet you can’t even imagine navigating through major cities without it. But getting from point A to point B sometimes requires more than seeing where the two points are, on a map. What if you need to take the shortest route? Or fill up your tank, pick up groceries AND take the shortest route?
Good thing ‘there’s an app for that.’ Waze has quickly become the go-to for many motorists, due to its rich blend of features. Using kitschy icons updated in real-time, the app helps thousands of users avoid speed cameras, accidents, hazards, road closures, traffic, find gas stations etc. It can provide so many options as it crowdsources the traffic information from all other drivers using the app. Users of the app upload data as they witness it, allowing others to make any adjustments to their journey.
Next time, you tap the Waze logo or fill in a reCaptcha, give yourself a little pat on the back for being part of something useful that much bigger than yourself.