When 57-year-old Betty Wheeler was hit by a car and killed a few weeks ago, police knew the chances of finding the perpetrators were slim. The only evidence the driver left was the shard of metal you see above, which had broken off in the collision. Car parts are notoriously difficult to identify, what with the vast numbers of makes and models available, many made with similar-looking parts. So without a good way for the police to find the specific car this piece came from, they turned to the crowd.
Automotive news site Jalopnik picked up the story, and urged readers to help. And help they did; the comments section exploded with helpful automotive gurus who practically clambered over each other to identify this piece. And in a matter of days, one vigilant commenter correctly identified the part as belonging to a Ford F-150. Although a common truck, this identification helped police narrow their search, and it was only a matter of time before they located the vehicle that had a chunk missing in the exact size and shape of this broken metal shard. Truly, a film noir Cinderella story.
None of us are as smart (or dumb!) as all of us, so stories like these are a great example of how a team can use crowdsourcing to add to their available knowledge base. Without the vast and deep knowledge the crowd possessed, police may have never located the perpetrators of this heinous crime. The takeaway lesson: when a project requires specific, detailed knowledge of one particular thing, crowdsourcing essentially provides a library of research, conveniently mobilized because it happens to be attached to five thousand dedicated individuals.