Mix equal parts outsourcing, Web and open innovation, garnish with "The Wisdom of Crowds" and you get "Crowdsourcing." Just don't expect to see it in the upper echelons of Corporate America just yet.

Author Jeff Howe ( characterizes this phenom as distributed labor networks using the Internet to exploit the spare processing power of millions of human brains, much the same way that dispersed computing projects harness the processing might of millions of chips.

MySpace, eBay, Wikipedia, and the vast universe of Linux developers further illustrate the power of crowds properly organized. How's article makes the point that these Web initiatives - previously taboo with old-line businesses - now realize that technological advances are allowing them to source to anyone connected to the proverbial network.

At the same time, such advances are dissolving the cost barriers that once separated amateurs from professionals. Now all the diverse folks who make up the crowd can connect with companies in everything from pharmaceuticals to television. Hobbyists, part-timers, and dabblers have a new source of income, and businesses have a new, cheaper, and often more inventive source of solutions.

I get asked whether this Web 2.0 model is taking root at larger companies with serious business processes. Answer: Not yet, anyway.

"The Wisdom of Crowds", a deservedly popular collection of work by New Yorker writer James Surowiecki explains that for the crowd to be wise, four conditions must exist: diversity of opinion, independence of members from one another, a specific kind of decentralization, and a good method for aggregating opinions.

Similarly, Howe highlights what he sees as the "Five Rules of the New Labor Pool": The crowd is dispersed. It has a short attention span. It is full of specialists. The crowd produces mostly crap - but also finds the best stuff.

I believe most serious corporate executives aren't yet ready to let the crowd sort the good from the crap. But I still think it's worth watching the crowd.