Crowdsourcing: from the Septuagint to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk

When you’re sick and your health deteriorates, you go to the doctor, who tries to help you to get better. If this doesn’t help, you may end up in hospital where your doctor has an opportunity to figure out what’s wrong with you over a longer period of time. Failing which, the doctor may decide to call-in other doctors to look at the case and offer advice.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is an independent, international organization that operates from Davos, Switzerland as a not -for-profit foundation. It is described as “the foremost global community of business, political, intellectual and other leaders of society who are committed to improving the state of the world. The Forum is an independent, not -for-profit organization that brings these leaders together to work on projects that improve people’s lives.” Here, once more, the problem solving capabilities of the group overtakes the skillsets of a single “business, political, intellectual and other” leader.

According to a statement on,  In October 2006, Google bought YouTube “the consumer media company for people to watch and share original videos through a Web experience, for $1.65 billion in a stock-for-stock transaction.” The reason for the purchase is outlined further down the announcement: “YouTube currently delivers more than 100 million video views every day with 65,000 new videos uploaded daily and it has quickly become the leading destination on the Internet for video entertainment.” The value vested in YouTube is the sum total of its members’ activities online. This, Google felt, was worth 1.65 billion dollar.

All three cases above hold group power as superior to individual’s capabilities, under specific circumstances: the doctor reached the limit of his knowledge, experience and intuitive capabilities, calling in more brain power could help him cover new ground. The World Economic Forum relies on the power of the many, too – “[t]he World Economic Forum is forming Global Agenda Councils on the foremost topics in the global arena. For each of these topics, the Forum will convene the most innovative and relevant leaders to capture the best knowledge on each key issue and integrate it into global collaboration and decision-making processes.” Finally – in buying YouTube Google did not aim to buy the expertise, code, video stock or infrastructure, not even the brand (it is undoubtedly the Google brand that carries YouTube, rather than the other way around) – it bought millions of members — and the aggregation of the stuff they upload and watch. This point is superbly presented by Jeff Howe, Wired contributing editor and the person responsible for inventing the term Crowdsourcing. Jeff Howe defines Crowdsourcing as “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.” Howe offers sections of his new book online – for comments and input. He argues that diversity is more important than ability, arguing that “[u]derstanding diversity is imperative to understanding collective intelligence, and collective intelligence is an essential ingredient in one of the primary categories of Crowdsourcing-the attempt to harness many people’s knowledge in order to solve problems or predict future outcomes or help direct corporate strategy.”

So what practical uses can one derive from Crowdsourcing? Historically, arguably the earliest case of crowd sourcing is the Septuagint (aka LXX, or The Seventy) – the first translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek. According top to the legend, 70 old men congregated around 300BC in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, where the world’s largest library stood, and translated the scriptures ‘as if they were one person, one body.’ For modern examples, consider InnoCentive – a thinktank facility that “connects companies, academic institutions, and non-profit organizations, all hungry for breakthrough innovation, with a global network of more than 125,000 of the world’s brightest minds on the world’s first Open Innovation Marketplace.” InnoCentive links between people who seek solutions (‘seekers‘) and those who have the ability to solve problems (‘InnoCentive Solvers’) — the entire process, involving identifying and using aspects of intellectual property offered by ‘solvers’ is managed by InnoCentive. 125,000 ‘solvers’ are definitely an awesome – highly diversified – crowd.’s Crowdsourcing facility is called Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. The name is based on a famous 17th century clever hoax, in which a person toured Europe with a machine that – he claims – can solve the most complex mathematical problems. In fact, the “clever” contraption had a mathematician hidden inside – it was the human mind, rather then the machine’s that solved the problems. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk works in a similar way to InnoCentive’s, introducing ‘requesters’ (people who need problems solved or some questions answered) and ‘workers’ – those who have (or believe they have) an answer. offers an interesting financial model – based on a voting mechanism for the best answer (the more people think that the answer is the right one – the more money the ‘worker’ may get.) Crowdsourcing philosophy is not new – and it is not linked to any specific technology. But the ability to use global communications in order to match tasks with millions of potential solutions and ideas – is extremely attractive.

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