In recent years, there has been a sharp increase in the practice of crowdsourcing, or collecting support or contributions from Internet users to reach a certain goal. Crowdsourcing can take on a variety of forms, ranging from the collective works of users in creating the information repository that is Wikipedia to raising money through organizations like Kickstarter to get a business or product to the market.
Crowdsourcing can be used by well-established brands to determine the path for the future; voting on flavors of potato chips or t-shirt designs, for example, are examples of crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing can also be used to fund business ventures; this practice is often referred to as crowdfunding. Campaigns for launching a product are proposed and various levels of support are rewarded in various ways. Users are able to contribute to the campaign with a level of risk they are comfortable with in the hopes of obtaining one of these rewards upon launch. If the venture fails, however, the contribution is lost; this is the gamble users take. Similarly, crowdfunding can be used by individuals for charitable purposes. In years past, individuals who lost their homes to fire or who encountered significant medical bills due to an accident were reliant on word of mouth to garner public financial support. Today, crowdfunding campaigns can be created in support of these individuals, explaining their plight and encouraging users to donate whatever they can. Such an approach allows for the fundraiser to reach more people in a shorter amount of time; making a donation is also easier. While the primary connection most people have to crowdsourcing is through these fundraising efforts, the practice of crowdsourcing itself is very diverse and can achieve a wide variety of goals.