From Handbags to Traffic Navigation: Harnessing the Power of Crowdsourcing

The belief that two heads are better than one is an ancient one. As far back as the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament of the Bible, in fact. In 1546, a variation of this saying was found in English writer John Heywood's collection of proverbs: A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue. (

Today, instead of a phrase, you're hearing the word "Crowdsourcing". A different word with a different definition, but ultimately driving toward the same goal as the ancient proverbs: Harnessing the power of multiple minds to creatively solve problems.

Note: I'm not including crowdfunding in this post, as I covered it in a three-part series I wrote last year. While it is arguably a type of crowdsourcing, crowdfunding harnesses the finances of the crowd to bring a new idea to life vs creating and expanding upon the ideas themselves.

A recent article in Smartplanet, How the crowd is making fashion design more efficient, got me thinking about just how widespread creative problem solving via crowdsourcing has become.

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono /
The article takes a look at a New York company, Stitch Collective, launched in 2012 to produce crowdsourced handbags. To create a new handbag, Stitch Collective seeks submissions from fashion schools and design networks. New designers worldwide send in their ideas, then based on which designs are most feasible to produce, Stitch Collective chooses finalists, and its community of accessory enthusiasts vote on their favorite.

The advantages of crowdsourcing? Even in fashion, one of the more difficult industries for an emerging designer to break into, as the Smartplanet article states, "...a rising new class of fashion businesses that, instead of handing down mysteriously conceived designs from on high, is turning to the crowd to decide what to make, and how much of it."

There are a multitude of crowdsourcing sites creating business solutions, such as web design, graphics, microwork, and microtasks. A few notable crowdsourcing sites include:
  • gengo: An online translation service that uses a network of more than 7,500 pre-screened and rated translators to provide high-quality translations in 33 languages. (TechCrunch)
  • InnoCentive: Crowdsourced solutions to business, social, policy, scientific, and technical challenges from 300,000 diverse and creative thinkers and problem solvers from nearly 200 countries.
  • PatientsLikeMe: A data-sharing platform, where patients can share and learn from real-world, outcome-based health data.
  • waze: A community-based traffic and navigation app where 30 million drivers share real-time traffic and road info, either passively or actively. Gamification and social networking are included.
    Update: Google is looking to buy waze. hmmm. (Mashable 0524/13)
I'll point out here that I'm not endorsing these crowdsourcing companies — they're all for-profit companies who demonstrate the variety of crowdsourcing solutions available.

After the flattening of the world and normalization of globalization, it's easy now (thank you, hindsight) to see just how inevitable and incredibly creative the concept of crowdsourcing really is. What better way to harness the expertise and experience of people both in our communities and around the world to creatively solve problems?