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Motivations for Crowdsourcing

Motivations for Crowdsourcing

By Daren C. Brabham. This is an English translation of a section from the Dutch book, De C2B Revolutie, by Robert van Meer & Tim Meuleman (Beerens Business Press).

Organizations implement crowdsourcing applications in the hopes that the participation of an online community — a crowd — results in the design of goods or the solving of problems for the organization. Thus, it is important to understand how and why individuals in the crowd participate in these arrangements in order to maximize the crowd’s abilities. Crowds participate in crowdsourcing willingly, and they are not always driven by the opportunity to make money in the process. An organization that understands what motivates its crowd to participate and fulfills these needs will sustain a productive crowdsourcing platform.

In the past few years, research has been conducted specifically on the crowds of some well-known crowdsourcing applications to determine what motivates them to participate (1). These findings indicate that crowds are motivated by a diverse set of extrinsic and intrinsic rewards, and individuals in the same crowd can be motivated for different reasons. Some common crowdsourcing motivators include the desire to earn money, to develop one’s creative skills, to network with other creative professionals, to build a portfolio for future employment, to challenge oneself to solve a tough problem, to pass the time when bored, to contribute to a large project for the common good, and to have fun.

While there are many common reasons why crowds participate, however, there is no single motivator that seems to apply to all crowdsourcing applications. Motivations are diverse, individual, and unique to the given crowdsourcing context. This conclusion resonates with a large body of research that has been done on other online participatory activities, such as creating open source software (2), posting videos to YouTube (3), blogging (4), contributing to Wikipedia (5), and tagging content at Flickr (6). In other words, individuals who engage in any kind of participatory activity online, such as crowdsourcing, “believe their contributions matter and feel some degree of social connection with one another.” (7) At the core of crowdsourcing is the understanding that the crowd is an online community voluntarily participating in the creation of value for an organization. Crowdsourcing organizations must nurture these community bonds, respect the time investments and talents of the crowd, and reward the crowd appropriately through recognition, attention, and sometimes tangible goods.

A crowdsourcing organization should consider motivations in the design of the crowdsourcing system. The crowd is at the heart of the crowdsourcing enterprise, so incorporating its needs in the architecture of the platform is crucial. The crowdsourcing platforms that fail are the ones that think of the crowd as an afterthought. Crowdsourcing failures focus too much on what the crowd produces and not enough on how and why the crowd is productive. Managing an online community is not like running a factory. Rather, managing an online community is a customer service and public relations activity, where the organization engages the crowd in the maintenance of the brand.

Crowdsourcing is as much a revolution in human relations as it is a revolution in business. As such, organizations involved in crowdsourcing must strive to build relationships with the crowd. The organization must immerse itself in the day-to-day activity of the crowd and respond to its needs proactively and with respect and care. The most successful crowdsourcing examples are highlighted by thoughtful examinations of what motivates participation and how the crowd’s needs are satisfied. If you keep a crowd happy and engaged, the crowdsourcing business will take care of itself.

Daren C. Brabham, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Among the first to publish research on crowdsourcing, he has written about the motivation of crowds and of crowdsourcing's potential as a nonprofit problem solving tool.


(1) - Daren C. Brabham, 2008, “Moving the crowd at iStockphoto: The composition of the crowd at motivations for participation in a crowdsourcing application,” First Monday, 13(6), Daren C. Brabham, 2010, Crowdsourcing as a model for problem solving: Leveraging the collective intelligence of online communities for public good, unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Utah. Daren C. Brabham, 2010, “Moving the crowd at Threadless: Motivations for participation in a crowdsourcing application,” Information, Communication & Society, 13(8), pp. 1122-1145. Karim R. Lakhani, Lars Bo Jeppesen, Peter A. Lohse, & Jill A. Panetta, 2007, “The value of openness in scientific problem solving,” Harvard Business School Working Paper, no. 07-050, Katri Lietsala & Atte Joutsen, 2007, “Hang-a-rounds and true believers: A case analysis of the roles and motivational factors of the Star Wreck fans,” in Artur Lugmayr, Katri Lietsala, & Jan Kallenbach (eds.), MindTrek 2007 Conference Proceedings, Tampere, Finland: Tampere University of Technology, pp. 25-30.
(2) - Andrea Bonaccorsi & Cristina Rossi, 2004, “Altruistic individuals, selfish firms?: The structure of motivation in open source software,” First Monday, 9(1), Alexander Hars & Shaosong Ou, 2002, “Working for free?: Motivations for participating in open source projects,” International Journal of Electronic Commerce, 6(3), pp. 25-39. Guido Hertel, Sven Niedner, & Stefanie Hermann, 2003, “Motivation of software developers in the open source projects: An Internet-based survey of contributors to the Linux kernel,” Research Policy, 32(7), pp. 1159-1177. Karim R. Lakhani & Robert G. Wolf, 2005, “Why hackers do what they do: Understanding motivation and effort in free/open source software projects,” in Joseph Feller, Brian Fitzgerald, Scott A. Hissam, & Karim R. Lakhani (eds.), Perspectives on free and open source software, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, pp. 3-22.
(3) - Bernardo A. Huberman, Daniel M. Romero, & Fang Wu, 2009, “Crowdsourcing, attention and productivity,” Journal of Information Science, 35(6), pp. 758-765.
(4) - Su-Houn Liu, Hsiu-Li Liao, & Yuan-Tai Zeng, 2007, “Why people blog: An expectancy theory analysis,” Issues in Information Systems, 8(2), pp. 232-237.
(5) - Oded Nov, 2007, “What motivates Wikipedians?,” Communications of the ACM, 50(11), pp. 60-64.
(6) - Oded Nov, Mor Naaman, & Chen Ye, 2008, “What drives content tagging: The case of photos on Flickr,” in Margaret Burnett, Maria Francesca Costabile, Tiziana Catarci, Boris de Ruyter, Desney Tan, Mary Czerwinski, & Arnie Lund (eds.), Proceedings of the 26th annual SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems, New York: Association for Computing Machinery, pp. 1097-1100.
(7) - Henry Jenkins (with Ravi Purushotma, Katherine Clinton, Margaret Weigel, & Alice J. Robison), 2006, Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century, Chicago: The MacArthur Foundation,, at p. 3.

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