The word 'hobby' makes me think of stamp collectors, bird watchers and serial killers. Thus, I normally avoid them. But the cultivation of fringe pursuits is now hip thanks to the rise of a trend called 'crowdsourcing', which involves harnessing the reach of the internet to tap the wisdom of the masses - who receive little or no reward beyond recognition. The movement, which taps into the interactive spirit of Web 2.0, arose around 1995. A new breed of innovator, defined by idealism and a dislike of corporate conformity, decided to level the playing field. Happy to relinquish a portion of the control over their brands and products, the innovators tapped the might of the hive mind and caught the eye of Wired magazine writer Jeff Howe. He coined the term 'crowdsourcing' and deftly announced the emergence of the new business strategy by saying: 'Remember outsourcing? Sending jobs to India and China is so 2003.' Instead of relying on the low-cost workforces of Bangalore and Beijing, crowdsourcing lets business go global, hiring the workers of the world. They can be attracted by a simple concept: a website that follows the example of Wikipedia, the world's biggest encyclopaedia, which was established by volunteers who developed an infrastructure that lets anyone contribute. Another crowd-puller, Epinions, offers 'unbiased reviews by real people' of pretty much everything from fax machines to movies. If you want reviews of hotels and resorts or recommendations of things to do - from Thai boxing to visiting the world's largest power station - VirtualTourist is a goldmine of illuminating travel tips and sideswipes at lousy service. Threadless.com invites users to submit designs for weekly T-shirt competitions. The winner gets cash and free T-shirts, while Threadless sells the design to its 30,000-strong community. The procedure clearly works, because the business shifts more than 100,000 T-shirts a month. It would seem crowdsourcing is big business. IBM, for example, has invested US$100 million in 10 new businesses spawned by InnovationJam, a brainstorming experiment in collaborative innovation conducted last year. Supposedly the largest online brainstorming session ever, InnovationJam attracted more than 150,000 people from 104 countries. Channelling people power is such a big idea it might save the planet. At the start of this year, British tycoon Richard Branson and former US vice-president Al Gore launched a contest to find the best way of reducing carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere. The pair hope the winning idea will extract a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the air each year for the next decade. Open to everyone in the world, the Virgin Earth Challenge ( www.virginearth.com ) will earn the group or person who formulates the best idea US$5 million now plus a further US$20 million at the end of the decade. The prize proves that becoming part of the crowd does not have to mean earning sweatshop wages. But one wonders whether most contributors to the trend make more than peanuts. Just like outsourcing, the new strain of globalisation looks set to sharpen competition and drive down wages by creating a culture of undercutting the next man. And who wants to work for a pittance plus prestige?