Everything we know about crowdsourcing has its roots in concepts originated by Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911). Galton was a noted scientist, mathematician and statistician. He fundamentally shaped how we view and use statistics today. He is credited with the statistical concepts of median (the middle number in a given sequence of numbers), and standard deviation (deviations from the arithmetic mean).

In 1906, Galton attended a farmer’s fair and cattle show. His interest was piqued by a weight guessing contest. Around 800 people made guesses about the butchered and dressed weight of an ox that was available to the view of all fair-goers. After the contest was over, Galton obtained the tickets upon which each entrant recorded his or her guess. After weeding out a few cards because they were defective or ineligible, Galton had 787 guesses for his research.

Consistent with his concept of the median, Galton organized the guesses in order from highest to lowest. The middlemost number (the median) was a guess of 1208* lbs. The actual dressed weight of the ox was 1197* lbs. Galton was astonished that the middlemost guess was only .8% high compared to the actual. Even more amazing is that the mean or average of all guesses was spot on at 1197* lbs.

With his simple research project in 1906, Sir Francis Galton discovered the principle that came to be known as “the wisdom of the crowd.” The wisdom of the crowd is what crowdsourcing is all about. Getting feedback, input and ideas from large numbers of people can help us discover remarkable insight and reach the best conclusions.

*In Galton’s original published article about this event he recorded the “middlemost number” as 1207 lbs and the actual dressed weight as 1198 lbs. This number was reported by James Surowiecki in his book The Wisdom of Crowds, 2004. Using these numbers the mean was only 1 lb. off the actual dressed weight of 1197 lbs. A recent review of the archived data revealed a transcription error. The actual median guess was 1208 lbs and the actual dressed weight was 1197 lbs., exactly the same as the mean of all guesses!

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