Historic origins of crowdsourcing

This economic model finds its source in:

  • - government appeals to the people to solve scientific problems for recompense starting in the 18th Century;
  • - competitions and public offerings;
  • - free service and free access that allowed the consumer to take over part of the producer’s work, then the “on-demand” model that allowed him to take over the production decision itself.

Below, we propose a chronology of the historic origins of crowdsourcing and citizen science. This chronology is the result of analyses done on the literature on this subject. It was created using a collection of the most important events at the core of crowdsourcing (call for participation, recompense, collective work, microtasks, outsourcing, wisdom of crowds). The events assembled here are also the most representative of the taxonomy that we propose later in the chapter.


The English government launches a call for scientists to find a solution to determine maritime longitude from a boat. John Harrison, a carpenter and clockmaker, wins the 20,000 pound reward over more than 100 competitors, including Cassini, Huygens, Halley and Newton


A ruling by the King of France, Louis XV, requests that ship captains bring plants and seeds back from foreign countries that they visit


British astronomer Nevil Maskelyne calculates the position of the moon for navigation at sea, thanks to the calculations of two astronomers who made their calculations twice each, and then were verified by a third


Mathematician Alexis Clairaut manages to calculate the orbit of Halley’s comet by dividing the calculation tasks among three astronomers


French engineer Gaspard de Prony organizes addition and subtraction microtasks for 24 unemployed barbers in order to develop detailed logarithmic and trigonometric tables


With his new methods of food preservation that will lead to canned food, Nicolas Appert receives 12,000 francs from the French government after a call for contributions


The store “Le Bon Marche” is the first self-service store. From then on, consumers directly access merchandise without going through the intermediary of a merchant and thus take on part of the producer’s work


After a call for volunteer contributions, the Oxford English Dictionary benefits from more than 6 million documents containing word proposals and citations of use


The Statue of Liberty is financed by public donations


During a competition on the livestock market to guess the weight of the cow, Francis Galton notices that the average of a crowd’s estimates is closer to the truth than experts’ estimates, implying the existence of the “wisdom of crowds”


The National Audubon Society (USA and Canada) organizes a “Christmas bird count”


Librarian James Duff Brown invents free access in libraries. Readers of the Clerkenwell Public Library from then on have direct access to part of the collections

Early 19th Century

In the field of editing, public offerings multiply to finance the publication of books


Toyota gathers 27,000 people and chooses the best proposed design for its brand logo


In the United States, the Mathematical Tables Project employs 450 out-of-work victims of the economic depression, led by a group of mathematicians and physicists, to tabulate mathematical functions, long before the invention of the computer

In the 1950s

A Toyota industrial engineer, Taiichi Ono, invents the “just-in-time” model, predecessor of the “on-demand” model, which would allow production without reserves or unsold articles, just-in-time manufacturing as a function of demand. In a way, it is a matter of outsourcing the production decision itself to the consumer. This model is at the root of on-demand digitization through crowdfunding and on-demand printing


The first telethon in the United States allows fundraising to fight cerebral palsy


The Sydney Opera House is designed and built after a public competition that encouraged ordinary people from 32 countries to contribute to this design project


The Zagat survey (restaurant guide) bases its ratings on a large number of testers. The project was purchased by Google in September 2011


The 3rd edition of the Lonely Planet travel guide is written through the participation of independent travelers


Birth of the Internet Archive


Le livre a la carte: facsimile reproduction of books kept in libraries (on- demand digitization and printing)


Rock band Marillion finances its US tour, thanks to fan donations amounting to $60,000


The Dmoz directory offers content generated by its users. Web 2.0 is born


Philanthropic crowdfunding platform justgiving.com and the participatory artist financing platform artistshare.com see the light of day. They are followed by multiple initiatives until today


Distributed Proofreader: first participatory book transcription project


Birth of Wikipedia


ESP Game: a game for image indexing


Amazon launches the crowdsourcing platform Amazon Mechanical Turk Marketplace for its own needs and also allows coordination of research societies and institutions and workers on the Web for microtasks


Espresso Book Machine for in situ on-demand printing


Jeff Howe proposes the term “crowdsourcing” in Wired Magazine in June 2006


Google Books uses reCAPTACHA to have its untreated OCR corrected by Internet users


The gamification project Fold.it allows advances to be made in the knowledge of proteins, thanks to puzzle games


The Good Judgement Project makes use of Internet users’ wisdom of crowds through their geopolitical expectations, which rival those of intelligence experts


Digitalkoot for OCR correction in the form of arcade games


The video game Star Citizen raises $30,044,586

Table 5.1. Chronology of crowdsourcing in libraries

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >