Crowdsourcing Takes Off!

Airbus A380 for Blog Post

Crowdsourcing can be defined as the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call (Howe, 2006). The motivations for people could be intrinsic or extrinsic or a combination of both. Two examples were highlighted to exemplify crowdsourcing, illustrate the different motivations behind them and to discuss their relevance and success levels.

The first example was Tomnod.  A Boeing 777 disappeared into the ocean in flight MH370 of Malaysia Airlines on March 8th. Due to the large search area of the ocean, the search was an overwhelming task. Therefore, to make the search faster, a satellite imaging company, Digital Globe, launched an online platform called Tomnod. Anybody around the world with a computer, an internet connection and a set of eyes can actively help with the search. People log into the platform and are assigned a small part of the search area that they can examine through satellite images and tag any objects they believe could be linked to the accident. This is a good of a creation task completed using crowdsourcing by collection (Malone et al., 2010).  The motivation for people to do this was intrinsic sense of goodness and self worth, and yielded 2.4 million participants. Which differs from the assumption of Malone et al. (2010) that the motivation for participating in crowdsourcing activities are generally one or a combination of love, glory and money.

The second example was the “fly your idea” innovation contest by Airbus, where engineers from universities all around the world were openly invited to submit their engineering projects to Airbus. The company put an emphasis on innovative projects with sustainability promising future. The motivation to participate was both intrinsic and extrinsic. The innovation contest provided a chance for glory, fame and recognition and also a chance to win valuable cash prizes. The competition attracted 618 engineering teams to participate. In order to select a winner among 618 complex engineering projects Airbus used a staged approach (Majchrzak & Malhotra, 2013). The three rounds of competition ask for increasing details on the engineering ideas while part of the participating teams are eliminated.

The success of such crowdsourcing projects is hard to determine. On one hand, the Tomnod project was successful as it involved 2.4 million people and covered 24,000 sq kilometers to help with the search. These would have been extremely expensive to hire or even impossible on such short notice and terms. On the other hand, the project failed because the plane was not found. Similarly, the fly your idea innovation contest reinforced Airbus as an employment target for engineers around the world, and also gave airbus a huge pool of ideas they can use for their future designs. On the other hand, Airbus’s value did not increase because of the competition and a lot of money was spent on it without apparent physical returns.


Jeff Howe (Journalist at WIRED Magazine) in 2006

Malone, T W., Laubacher, R., Dellarocas, C. et al. (2010) The Collective Intelligence Genome, MIT Sloan Management Review

Majchrzak, A. & Malhotra, A. (2013) Towards an information systems perspective and research agenda on crowdsourcing for innovation, Journal of Strategic Information Systems 22 (2013) 257–268

Tomnod – Official website:

Airbus “Fly Your Ideas” – Official website:

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