Fans of the UK television series "New Tricks" may be familiar with the idea of old (or "cold") cases being worked on by a team of former detectives, in the hope that a new slant may be found and fresh leads developed to hopefully lead to finding the truth. Across the pond in Canada they seem to be employing an alternative approach to cracking cold cases, using the relatively modern idea of "crowdsourcing".

The term "crowdsourcing" was first coined in 2005 by the "Wired Magazine" editors Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson, in response to how they were seeing businesses making use of the Internet to outsource work to individuals. The word was formed by combining the essential elements of the concept, ie. a "crowd" being involved in "outsourcing" duties.

As such, crowdsourcing is essentially a means of gaining a response from a large group of people, particularly from an online community, instead of utilising the more traditional approach of like minded employees. It has been used previously to break down tedious tasks into more manageable and smaller pieces of work using many volunteers / part- time workers, where each one adds a small portion to achieve the overall result (a sort of "sum is greater than the parts" notion). 

A detective from Toronto called Tam Bui has been given permission by his department and the family of murder victim Mike Pimentel to utilise crowdsourcing in an effort to crack the cold case. Pimental was killed during a stabbing on New Year's Day back in 2012, following a party he attended.  Bui's inspiration for the somewhat novel approach was the American documentary podcast "Serial" that recently ended its season, leaving its audience of amateur "whodunnits" eager for the next episodes and a ready-made group (or so Bui hopes) to tap into and to hopefully assist his investigation into a real, unsolved case.

"Serial" explores a non-fictional story over several episodes and was first aired in October 2014, as a spinoff of the radio program "This American Life", with its creator and host being Sarah Koenig.  It reached number one on iTunes and stayed there for several weeks.

Early in December, Bui began to post clues on Saturdays relating to the case via Twitter using a hashtag of #mikepimentelmurder. His first posting included a freeze-frame picture from a video that was taken during surveillance.

The response to the tweets posted so far has been encouraging and despite opposition from several critics, seems likely to assist in the investigation as eluded to by another Toronto detective, Jeff Tavares, who stated that it may be an "unique way of drawing information from the general public".

Crowdsourcing is beginning to become a more commonplace method in modern thinking. Only yesterday a crowdsourcing campaign was begun for the "iStand6" and it has also been utilised with mobile apps recently. Researchers are recognising that mobile devices can provide them with a novel means to crowdsource experiments through cognitive tests that form part of the games being played. As a result, they are provided with a bountiful supply of useful data they can use.

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