How many lightbulbs does it take to change a crowd?

Digital communities are changing our landscape on many levels. We live in an age of ‘extensive conceptual stretching’, meaning ideas don’t stay still for very long, they rapidly merge and evolve. Crowdsourcing is where outsourcing, internet technologies and crowds intersect. Since Jeff Howe wrote about it in Wired, crowdsourcing has been our terminology for “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent and outsourcing it to an undefined large group of people in the form of an open call” (Howe 2006). Jeff and others were bewailing the movement of the amorphous crowd into professional areas, like istockphoto selling images for $1 (now iStock), and the future of corporate R&D being handed over to cross-pollinating collaborative budget-cutting outsiders.

Rethinking Crowdsourcing. Image by Elliot Lim.

Current crowdsourcing models cover the more complicated human intelligence work, including scientific R&D, digital media production, software development, citizen journalism, and consumer reporting. Businesses and governments harness the efforts of a virtual ‘crowd’ taking advantage of social media applications while actively controlling its collaborative management (Saxton, et al, 2013). The online community plays the role of service providers – we produce, innovate, solve problems, and report – facilitating collective content creation (Bruns 2007). It’s not quite the same as the viral sharing that tells a story quickly to the masses, like when social media came to the rescue and cut through the noise of news media to rally help for those devastated by the Australian bushfires, but there’s no denying the power of the crowd to outperform professional broadcasting with the immediacy of news-in-real-time.

Crowdsourcing is where outsourcing, internet technologies and crowds intersect.

Amateur video and photography, with its ability to contribute information from deep within crisis areas, has become crucial to government agencies in disseminating knowledge to the public and to recovery responders. The emerging role of social media in emergency communications has changed the communication strategies of authorities, as we saw in the 2011 Qld floods, where Twitter became the Qld Police prime source in seeking and providing information about the disaster. Lives have been saved, and resources and security coordinated, because of volunteer crowdsourced crisis monitoring systems.

Coordinating information. Image: Unsplash

The growing acceptance of crowdsourcing for information is not without its challenges, as misinformation or inaccurate information can hinder emergency services, and authorities are calling for embedded verification systems. “Getting verified becomes critical in crises” (Ford 2012). As Riccardi says, “It takes a staff of trained individuals to sift through, verify, and allocate resources where needed” (Riccardi 2016). Crowdsourcers work with partners to verify information, such as Waze, who aim keep people in crisis affected areas safe and informed.

Crowd wisdom comes in many forms. Crowdsourcing knowledge sharing and creation isn’t just mass-processing information, it’s also managing collective intelligence (Saxton 2013). One of the first uses of social media in disasters was Ushahidi’s crisis mapping platform, integrating data from multiple sources. In the era of Covid19, health professionals are openly collaborating by crowdmapping symptoms with smartphones. Conversely, business applications have brought value-added control systems, such as copyright protection, bidding and voting, and quality control, like peer reviews and ratings, into online platforms. The unique strength emerging in social media is the ability to tap into the collective brain. Crowdsourcing also brought us Threadless, Zazzle, Fluevog, et al, where consumers are turned into designers, and it spurred peer-to-peer social financing, like Kiva, where users play both banker and borrower, and even hacking for social change at Random Hacks of Kindness.

This is the true power of the crowd: collective ideas coming together to change us.

MDA2009 Assignment 1C Crowdsourcing in times of crisis


Bruns, A, Burgess, J, Crawford, K & Shaw, F 2012, #qldfloods and @QPSMedia: Crisis Communication on Twitter in the 2011 South East Queensland Floods, Arc Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, pp. 7-10, viewed 18 May 2020, <;.

Bruns, A 2007, Produsage: Towards a Broader Framework for User-Led Content Creation. In Shneiderman, B (Ed.) Proceedings of 6th ACM SIGCHI Conference on Creativity and Cognition 2007, Association for Computing Machinery, USA, pp. 99-105, viewed 18 May 2020, <;

Desai, A & Warner, J & Kuderer, N, et al, 2020, ‘Crowdsourcing a crisis response for COVID-19 in oncology’, Nature Cancer, viewed 19 May 2020, <;

Ford, H 2012, ‘Crowd Wisdom’, Index on Censorship, vol.41, no.4, p33-39, viewed 18 May 2020, <;

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Paper and Spark Digital, 2020, Social Media: Engaging the World in Australia’s Bushfire Crisis, viewed 18 May, 2020, <;

Postetti, J & Lo, P 2012, ‘The Twitterisation of ABCs Emergency & Disaster Communication’, Australian Journal of Emergency Management, Vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 34-39, viewed 19 May 2020, <;res=IELAPA;dn=046926063833158&gt;

Riccardi, M 2016, ‘The power of crowdsourcing in disaster response operations’, International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, Volume 20, December 2016, Pages 123-128, viewed 18 May 2020, <;

Saxton, G & Oh, O & Kishore, R 2013, ‘Rules of Crowdsourcing: Models, Issues, and Systems of Control’, Information Systems Management, viewed 18 May 2020, <;


Lim, E 2017, Rethinking Crowdsourcing, Harvard Business Review, viewed 19 May 2020, <;

Saxton, G & Oh, O & Kishore, R 2013, ‘Rules of Crowdsourcing: Models, Issues, and Systems of Control’, Information Systems Management, viewed 18 May 2020, <;

Unsplash image: jo-szczepanska-bjemWZcNF34-unsplash.jpgjo-szczepanska-bjemWZcNF34-unsplash