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When I was a kid, I remember coming home from school and asking my parents for permission to do something really stupid.  There answer was always no.   “But everyone else is doing it” I’d say.

Then your Mom would throw this classic at you;  “so if everyone else was jumping off a bridge, would you do that too?”

End of story.

Today though, if a mob of people told you that jumping off a bridge could solve a particular problem, you might actually have to give it some thought.  That’s because of one theory for solving complex problems:  Crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourcing, as defined in Wikipedia, is the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to an undefined, large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open call. I feel that using information and resources from the crowd can help me make better decisions and be more productive.

Ebay knows we’re on the way back

Crowdsourcing can be a way to build something.  Firefox, one of today’s most popular web browsers, is an open source product - built by an unknown “crowd.”  Users of crowdsourcing can build new software programs and sales teams, design buildings, and even help create new drugs by plugging into the collaborative nature of crowds.

A quick look at one crystal ball is telling us that no matter how we feel personally, the economy is recovering.  Ebay, the monster auction site (which also owns Skype, Paypal, and is part owner of Craigslist) has tens of millions of shoppers and thousands of small businesses using its auction platform.  It’s so large, that some economists think of Ebay as a proxy for the entire US retail economy.  Ebay sales are up.  So is its stock.  That could be good news for all of us.

If you want to get a strong idea if a new product or service is likely to succeed, you might go to crowdsourcing site Inkling.  Here, they use something called a “prediction market” to aggregate people’s opinions to form a prediction of the likelihood of something occurring.

Fight Disease…and have fun

Foldit combines gaming with scientific research.  One of the lessons here is: if it’s fun, the crowd will help you.  The crowd plays a simple yet addictive game ( I zone out on brickbreaker) of protein folding.  As the site explains - since proteins are part of so many diseases, they can also be part of the cure.  Players can design brand new proteins that could help prevent or treat important diseases.

At Lawnmowingonline, you can find someone to mow your lawn for as little as 19 bucks within 24 hours  (lawn mowing emergency?) just by putting it out there to the crowd.

[for a list of crowdsourcing sites from around the world look here]

Bottom line

Crowdsourcing is a tool that can help you make more informed business decisions and get more things done with limited personnel resources.  There are many sites out there to help you collect information and find people with the time or special skills to collaborate on your next project.