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This is currently mostly an in-term for internet pundits, though its potential social impact means that it’s likely to become more widely known. It’s a modification of the much better known crowdsourcing from 2004, itself a combination of crowd and outsourcing.

In crowdsourcing, requests to help with a task are broadcast online. Many research projects have a crowdsourcing element, such as searching astronomical photos to find planets around other stars or taking a survey to contribute to knowledge about variations in people’s biological clocks. The original idea behind crowdsourcing was unpaid voluntary collaboration but many projects now attract cash rewards. The term crowdsourcing is now common and has spawned several derivatives, including crowdfunding (asking for small contributions from a large number of people to fund a project) and crowdvoting (in which websites collect the opinions of a large group on a topic).

Crowdworking is the newest member of the set. It refers to websites that employ people to undertake mainly low-level repetitive tasks such as data entry, ranking URLs on Google, transcribing recordings or tagging photographs. Crowdworking sites have been criticised for low pay, no security of employment and no appeal if a worker feels he has been unfairly treated.

Crowdworking is growing, fast. Ville Miettinen, chief executive of “human powered document processing” service Microtask, says business at his crowdworking company is increasing at around 400% year-on-year — and his experience is typical of the wider industry.

BBC News, 26 Jun. 2012.

It has excited technology-watchers who like the idea that crowd-sourcing can become crowd-working: Instead of hiring employees or negotiating tiresome freelance contracts, anyone who wants a job done that can be done on a computer can simply go to the market and instantly pick from a host of willing or desperate workers.

Huffington Post, 19 Feb. 2013.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 16 March 2013.