Craftsourcing versus Crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing usually refers to the aggregation of small decisions made by a lot of people. For example, aggregating the votes on a singer on American Idol is crowdsourcing. While much judgement might have gone behind the decision, the decision itself is simple. Voting in general — whether for presidents or for performers — is a crowdsourcing problem. Another tacit assumption behind crowdsourcing is that the decisions are taken at about the same time — while voting is spread across a whole day, a day is a relatively short time in the life of a presidency.
Craftsourcing involves deeper engagement with people giving more of themselves and of substantive engagement with each other’s ideas and decisions. The classic example might be academic labor — the solution to Fermat’s last theorem involved the labor of several people across centuries, each one of whom engaged deeply with previous generations of scholars. Craftsourcing is spread both across space and across time.
Photo credit Mike Cogh
Both crowd- and craft- sourcing are ancient social capabilities, but the internet has definitely revolutionized both. Crowdsourcing is at the heart of the major internet companies business model — Facebook, Google, Amazon are all based on aggregating the preferences of millions of people’s beliefs and decisions. Craftsourcing is not as developed, since it takes more effort and has fewer obvious economic benefits, but Wikipedia is arguably our best example of craftsourcing, where hundreds of thousands of people have given their time freely to produce the best encyclopedia on the history of our species. More recently, the polymath projects have created much excitement around collaborative solution of math problems, but true craftsourcing remains rare. Unlike crowdsourcing, which has produced businesses such as google and facebook that simply couldn’t exist in a previous era, we are yet to see craftsourcing produce knowledge of a kind that no one has produced before.