Research & Insights

By Lukas Biewald, February 8, 2009

Crowdsourcing the origin of the word “Crowdsourcing”

A few weeks ago, Steve Jurvetson sent me an email asking me if I knew the origin of the term “crowdsourcing”. Steve had been contacted indirectly by William Safire, author of the “On Language” column for the NY Times, who was looking for the first use of the term.

I had always thought that the term came from Jeff Howe’s June 2006 Wired Article , but in fact Jeff Howe credits Steve with the term from an earlier post on flickr.

A quick search on Google or the Internet Archive doesn’t turn up anything earlier than Steve’s post. But I thought it would be a perfect question to crowdsource. So I posted a task on Mechanical Turk to find the earliest use of the term.

Perhaps surprisingly, not a single person found the same result. And it was not at all clear which one was best.

The oldest mention suggested was www.cooltownstudios.com/2004/07/19/the-beta-community which has the word “crowdsourcing” and the date July 19th, 2004, but it links the term “crowdsourcing” to a wikipedia article that wouldn’t have existed at the time.

The second oldest mention suggested was www.developmentseed.org/blog/2004/dec/03/open-source-news-wikinews which is dated Dec 3rd, 2004 and tagged “crowdsourcing”, but that tag certainly could have been added later.

The third oldest mention suggested was www.alacrastore.com/storecontent/eiuftxml/EB_EB_MAIN_20060101T164500_0007 which has an article dated Jan 1st, 2006, which seems to have the term “crowdsourcing” in it, as evidenced by the site’s own search interface. But I didn’t want to go ahead and buy the article to confirm.

The most interesting finding for me was that it is not at all clear when the first mention of a word is. I offered turkers a bounty for the best answer, but was torn about who to give it to. All in all, I found no compelling evidence that Steve Jurvetson wasn’t the first to use the word “crowdsourcing.”

Today William Safire published his column on “Crowdsourcing” as well as “The Fat Tail”. I would slightly change both definitions, but it’s a great article with both topics related to Dolores Labs and dear to my heart :).