Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Evolution of Crowdsourcing

At Prize4Life, we distribute a weekly Digest of all sorts of relevant news: ALS news, news on philanthropy, news on trends in crowdsourcing, and news on industry developments that are relevant to ALS and neurodegenerative diseases. Like many organizations, we do this to keep our staff and constituencies informed of developments that can potentially affect us; on any given week we may read about how heavy metals could present a therapy option for ALS, about crowdsourced philanthropy, or about how women receive less research funding than men (by the way, if you’d like to receive the Digest, you can request to be added to the mailing list here).

In assembling the Digest recently, I have been struck by the diversity of organizations using crowdsourcing tactics to meet their goals. Prize4Life was the first neurodegenerative disease-oriented organization to establish an incentive prize and draw on the power of crowds for solutions, but it looks like we won’t be the last!

Crowdsourcing takes projects traditionally performed by employees and outsources them to a group of people in an open call for submissions. The public may be invited to develop a new technology, create a design, or analyze data. Prizes are often awarded to compensate winners, and clearly, Web 2.0 facilitates this kind of interaction. Prize4Life's two prizes are based on this very concept—we open our competition to the creativity and expertise of researchers the world over.

And crowdsourcing has a wide reach. Companies and non-profit organizations are crowdsourcing everything from purchase of a beer company to lightbulbs to maps. Yellow Tail is crowdsourcing a name for its newest wine. The first crowdsourced car hits the production line this month. Check out the list below for some of my favorite examples of crowdsourcing:


Philanthropic communities are increasingly harnessing the power of crowdsourcing for social change. Take TUGG, for example (Technology Underwriting Greater Good), a foundation organized by New England’s venture capital and entrepreneurial communities, which helps youth in areas of entrepreneurship, education, and experiences. TUGG relies on the broader community for ideas on social innovation projects, to select fundable projects, and to raise money through micro-initiatives.


Facebook, Twitter, and IBM have all used crowdsourcing for large-scale translation projects. The IBM application, n.Fluent, translates between English and 11 other languages, and it embodies contributions from the company's 400,000 employees. Facebook and Twitter have relied on their users to translate entire areas of their respective sites.


Crowdsourcing has even crept into government agencies. The US Department of Energy launched the L Prize in 2007, to spur development of high-quality, high-efficiency LED light bulbs as replacements for the common light bulb.

NetFlix recently awarded a $1 million prize to a team of mathematicians who came up with a recommendation software that could do a better job accurately predicting the movies that customers would like.

NASA and TopCoder, Inc. are holding a competition to develop algorithms which would help NASA flight surgeons make better decisions on what to include in the medical supplies kit of future long-term human space missions.

Prize4Life is proud to be the first disease organization to use these concepts in our work (click here to read more about our model). We invite as wide a pool of participants as possible with no restrictions. We want to attract ALS researchers, clinicians, other disease researchers, emerging scientists, established scientists, domestic researchers, international researchers worldwide, and anyone in between, to participate in the pursuit of understanding of ALS better and finding treatments and a cure for this devastating disease.

--by Meghan Kallman

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