Swarm – Definition

A swarm is a large number of animate or inanimate things massed together in a group that is often in motion. Many of us have seen a swarm in nature such as bees, birds and even large groups of people. However, the reasons for swarming are many and varied but the entities they consist of are usually working towards a common goal. This is why swarms in animals, plants, bacteria, and people can be studied and applied to various technologies and methods of working.

Swarm ©   Flikr by Thomas Brenner

Crowd Intelligence:
Swarms in Crowdsourcing

In connection with crowdsourcing, the term swarm relates to a large number of people working on a task or solving a complex problem together. This approach can also be used for the development of ideas or creative solutions. It is also referred to as swarm intelligence.

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What Characteristics Have to be Fulfilled?

Despite the fact that there are no general definitions, some characteristics are vital for the successful usage of a crowdsourding system. To be defined as swarm intelligence, all participants must operate independently. There must be no opinion leadership or dependence structures. Furthermore, the crowd must distinguish itself through a diversity of opinions and a decentralized structure. One example is idea development for new products via social media. In this case, creative potential is combined with marketing activities via swarm intelligence or crowdsourcing.

Inspiration and Examples

The inspiration for swarm intelligence comes from the study of animal and human swarm behavior. Examples would be how crowds of people move in hallways to avoid bumping into one another and how birds flock together to deter predators. Here are some examples where swarm intelligence was used in crowdsourcing:

  • UX Testing: Also known as usability testing, some platforms use a crowd of workers to find bugs or report on issues within software online.
  • Product Design: Companies ask consumers to create a new product, slogan, or logo etc.
  • Data Analysis: Platforms are set up to hire crowdworkers to look at or listen to data and analyse it.
  • Sample Collection: Advancing AI often requires a human touch. Crowdworkers can work to provide individual and unique audio, video, or written data.
  • Categorisation: Large projects require large crowds of workers, like those at clickworker who frequently take part in categorisation microtasks.

Common Swarm Themes

The above examples all have similarities. Although there can be huge crowds working on the same project, often those workers to do work together. For example, in college a group of students can work on a project together. This will involve discussion between them, agreements will be made and ideas formed. However, in swarm intelligence in crowdsourcing this form of collaboration does not occur. Workers do their own tasks independently of one another, there is no discussion or influence from any peers.

There is no centralised structure, this is when decisions are made at the top of the chain of command and sent down. All decisions here are made by the single crowdworker. The crowd works in a self-organised manner by all working on the same platform, using the same rules and having the same goal. There is no direct leader influencing their decision, the decisions they make are their own.

Pros and Cons of Using a Swarm

In crowdsourcing the use of the crowd is often very beneficial. However, in some situations, it may not always be the best option.


Two brains are better than one – as the saying goes, it’s often better to have more than one person working on something. This can make things more diverse and cut production time. Using swarms in crowdworking can be great for businesses that want to cut costs and get projects worked on as soon as possible. Having a crowd based all over the world there is no need for limitations of languages, resources, places to take photos etc. There is no need to even work out payments for the workers when a crowdworking platform like clickworker is utilised.


While there aren’t many downsides to crowdworking, using a swarm isn’t always the best option. Sometimes there can be data so sensitive that sharing it with a crowd could be risky or complex. Here smaller swarms could be helpful. Where there are more people there can be different ways to interpret things which can be difficult for a company. Again, using a platform can assist with this. For example: clickworker can set up your project and know how to explain insructions to their crowd to make sure the project runs smoothly. Finally, some projects require an extremely advanced knowledge of a complex subject. Therefore, the use of a crowd may be limited once more.