Need an Expert? Try the Crowd
In 1714, the British government held a contest. They offered a large cash prize to anyone who could solve the vexing “longitude problem” — how to determine a ship’s east/west position on the open ocean — since none of their naval experts had been able to do so.
Lots of people gave it a try. One of them, a self-educated carpenter named John Harrison, invented the marine chronometer — a rugged and highly precise clock — that did the trick. For the first time, sailors could accurately determine their location at sea.
A centuries-old problem was solved. And, arguably, crowdsourcing was born.
Can a crowd be an expert? Two UVM scientists think the answer is yes. (photo: James Cridland)
Crowdsourcing is basically what it sounds like: posing a question or asking for help from a large group of people. Coined as a term in 2006, crowdsourcing has taken off in the internet era. Think of Wikipedia, and its thousands of unpaid contributors, now vastly larger than the Encyclopedia Britannica.