Back in 2006 Jeff Howe coined the phrase crowdsourcing. He did so in the 2006 Wired magazine article — “The Rise of Crowdsourcing.” In the article Howe discusses the impact of crowd services like iStockPhoto. And how a service was born out of freely sharing images that were used by a group of graphic designers. As such, iStockPhoto was able to provide images at a discounted price — to anyone looking for an inexpensive alternative to stock photos.

So are you still asking yourself what is crowdsourcing? Let me define it then — a process of outsourcing the work to a crowd of people. That is it — that is crowdsourcing in summary.

And who is the crowd? In essence it’s the general public — or as Howe defines it — submitting work “as open call to a large undefined group of people, generally using the Internet.”

But perhaps the most unique side effect of crowdsourcing is that companies now approach the crowd as potential partners. Why, because the company and the crowd are working as a team on the job at hand. And the company understands that at the end of this engagement — they will be able to pick the best solution from a sea of best solutions. Which is in contrast to the current “work process” — having one or two solutions being presented to you because the work was kept in-house.

And why does a company benefit so dramatically from crowdsourcing — because of scale, flexibility, perspective and cost.

Let’s take user-generated content as an example:

Scale: The single most obvious benefit of user-generated content is the additional volume of content. The larger your contributor pool is the more content they will create which should translate into more unique visitors and more page views.

Take the Huffington Post as an example — the outlet has over 3,000 contributors which is one of the reasons it enjoys over 31 million unique visitors a month.

Flexibility: The more contributors the more events that can be covered. News organizations can now cover news from any part of the World, through citizen journalists. Additionally, news outlets can quickly pickup on trending events and then focus official resources to that story. CNN’s iReport is a good example of leveraging user-generated content.

Perspective: Having a wealth of user-generated content lends itself to a rather rich and unique set of perspectives. The Huffington Post has a valuable population of bloggers, politicians, celebrities and entrepreneurs — all contributing their unique perspectives. This level of engagement would be impossible if the Huffington Post solely relied on its internal staff.

Cost: News outlets can reduce their capital and operational costs by investing in user-generated content. There are basically two models — pay your contributors or don’t. The Huffington Post does not pay its contributors. In my experience, the contributors are more concerned with exposure than payment. But in contrast, the Examiner does pay their contributors — a revenue split which comes from Google Ads.

So for companies and executives that are looking to save money but improve their product(s) — crowdsourcing is a tool that should not be over-looked. If for nothing else crowdsourcing can be used as tool to foster innovation, within your company.

And don’t forget to take a look at what we are putting together for Crowdsourcing Week Asia 2013.