Many hands make light work. This maxim was first recorded in a 14th-century romantic poem 'Beves of Hamtoun.'
While it is not known who wrote the poem, it is guaranteed that the author was not aware that the adage would survive for centuries, and eventually be applied to the digital realm.
The concept of crowdsourcing combines this age-old principal with today's technology to enable seemingly insurmountable tasks to be completed with ease.
The use of technology-driven collective wisdom has been around as long as the Web. Sites such as Wikipedia have been using the model to curate content since 2001.
In 2005, the term 'crowdsourcing' took off and since then, has permeated almost every market and vertical imaginable.
Crowdsourced lenders and venture capitalists have reshaped their respective markets; journalists tap into the collective intelligence to source new stories; Google uses the crowd to help it tag images in order to deliver more accurate results.
It was only a matter of time before software developers looked at the crowdsourcing pie and thought, "We need a piece of that."
Software testing teams play a much more central role in the development lifecycle these days, with multiple platforms, security, accessibility, and usability all of paramount importance to an application's success.
"User satisfaction is fast becoming the number one reason for success," said Philipp Benkler, co-founder and managing director of Munich-based crowdtesting company Testbirds. "And there have never been more devices to test it on."
"Crowdtesting is a means to integrate the consumer much earlier and much more closely into the development and quality assurance process," he noted. "Whether it is to analyze prototypes or to go bug hunting, the goal should always be to create the best-possible piece of software for the user and with the user."
As software grows increasingly complex, the task of testing grows in equal measure. Below are two of the reasons businesses are turning to the crowd.
In an ideal world, the core testing team would have access to infinite resources; time to test software in every plausible environment and take into account every variable.
In the real world, this is far from possible. Even companies with almost unlimited resources such as Apple don't have the capacity to account for every variable; just take a look at what is trending on Twitter the next time a new version of iOS is released for confirmation of this fact.
Crowdsourcing has a multiplying effect on resources, allowing developers to test in a range of different environments, taking into account variables that would otherwise only be unearthed only at the point of release.
As Ovum analyst Paul Herzlich said: "If you are testing software that all kinds of strangers are going to use, then why not use a bunch of strangers to test it."
In this post-financial crisis era, IT departments are being asked to do ever more with ever less. This form of austere IT is exactly why technologies such as cloud have ballooned in recent years; the utility-like ability to pay only for what you use.
Crowdsourced testing carries similar cost benefits in that the organization only pays when valid bugs are unearthed. And because testing is carried out in parallel, and multiple times over, the development period is significantly reduced, which in turn has a positive impact on the bottom line.
Until recently, crowdtesting was the reserve of start-ups and smaller businesses, but as the benefits become more apparent, a wider range of organizations are subjecting applications to real-world conditions and embracing the power of the crowd.
Learn more from Philipp Benkler and hear some examples and case studies for usability testing and functional testing with the help of the crowd at Interop London this June. Find out more here.Sean McGrath is a freelance IT writer, researcher, and journalist. He has written for PC Pro, the BBC, and TechWeekEurope, and has produced content for a range of private organizations. Although he holds a first class degree in investigative journalism, his dreams of being a ... View Full Bio