Should I crowdsource?

Crowdsourcing of microwork is, according to Gartner in July 2015, still an hype that is “on the rise”. This means that the first signs of a possible successful hype arises and that success stories in the media attracts people their interest. Although crowdsourcing is a term that was introduced in 2006 (Merriam Webster, 2016) research about this subject has increased in last years. An important research in crowdsourcing was done by Afuah and Tucci (2012) which argued that under certain circumstances crowdsourcing is a better option than internal sourcing or contracting.

According to Afuah and Tucci there are two kinds of problem solving: distant search and local search. Local search are alternatives that are within the actors current position, like an employee of a company who has knowledge about a certain subject. Distant search is solving a problem by using different knowledge areas. For instance by letting an employee learn more about a certain subject. However, this is very time consuming and an employee might have difficulties with interpreting alternatives and thereby solving the problem.

The study shows that crowdsourcing is a better mechanism for solving problems when it is not an area of expertise of the agent, so when there is a need to conduct distance search. When there is no need to conduct distance research, results are very context specific. For example, when a problem is modular it would be wise to use an internal solution like a company its own staff members. And when the experience of the user is a central question in the problem, it would be wise to use crowdsourcing. The research gives some guidelines in what situations it would be useful to use the crowd. So can this research help to identify situations where the help of the crowd is needed?

Integra Gold is a company which had a successful crowdsourcing project. The company shared geographical information and asked the crowd to tell them where the company could find gold. Thanks to the wide range of experts it lead to the drilling of six billion dollar worth of gold (, 2015). A failed crowdsourcing project was in the case of Mountain Dew, which asked the crowd to come up with a new name for their new drink. Names as “Hitler did nothing wrong”, “Diabeetus” and “Gushing Granny” scored high on the top list (Time, 2012).

For both examples, the research would not help to determine whether crowdsourcing was a better option than outsourcing. Why? The research is so general that it eventually does not provide an answer. The results of the study show that crowdsourcing would be good in any situation (with only one exception out of eighteen situations). Crowdsourcing is really context specific and there is simply no ‘best practice’ when you should crowdsource. The paper is useful to understand the theory, but useless in practice.


Afuah, A., & Tucci, C. L. (2012). Crowdsourcing as a solution to distant search. Academy of Management Review, 37(3), 355-375. (2015). Crowdsourcing a gold rush., 12 February 2016

Gartner (2015). Hype cycle., 12 February 2016

Merriam Webster (2016). Definition crowdsourcing., 12 February 2016

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