Lately I really see how powerful the crowdsourcing is on solving problems using the collective knowledge of the users and the communities in a passive and automated way. By definition of passive I mean the application wasn't originally designed to get the intelligence from users. But overtime the wealth of information collected from users becomes a very important knowledge database in the application. By harnessing the collective intelligence of user base, it creates a very useful product and a key barrier to entry for the new comers.
Let's take a look at some good examples of products that are harnessing the power of crowds passively and automatically.
Quicken 2010 has just came out recently. Quicken users have been complaining about spending too much time trying to update and consolidate the spending categories. At the end, users just want to know where the money goes. Mint.com was created to solve this problem by downloading and categorizing the transactions automatically for its users. With the development of Quicken online and the acquisition of Mint.com, Intuit has incorporated this smart categorization into the new Quicken 2010. It learns from all the Quicken and Quicken Online users. If a particular transaction, say “Supreme Court Racquetball” was initially uncategorized, but is later categorized by enough people as a Health/Gym expense, Quicken applies that learning to all future transactions across user.
RescueTime is an application with desktop plugin to collect how you spend your time on your computer. It then sends the information to its server to analyze and show you how productive you are. It also uses crowd intelligence to determine which applications or websites to be considered as productive usage of time and what aren't.
Gmail is a famous email platform but I think the best feature of Gmail is its spam filter. We switched to Google App mainly for this. Gmail uses the power of crowds to identify the spam messages. We as users are collecting and identifying the knowledge about spams for Google so that all our Gmail inboxes can be free of spams.
Delicious is a social bookmarking application which allows users to save and share their website bookmarks. When you try to save a URL onto your Delicious account, you'll notice that it provides suggestion on the tags to use for that URL. How does Delicious know what tags to suggest for an URL? It uses the tags that are used by other users who bookmarked the URL on its system already.
There are many other examples of passive crowdsourcing. You probably even experienced one from Amazon.com that tells you other books people also bought with the one you are looking at.
I suggest you taking a good look at your own application. It may have already been collecting useful information from your users. How would you make use of this collective knowledge and share the benefits among all users to make everyone's life easier?