Man at work Crowdsourcing, where will it end? While outsourcing has become somewhat of a reviled word the establishment of production and support facilities on foreign soil is not where it ends. The concept of crowdsourcing has now appeared, where work is broken up into discrete tasks and assigned to workers based around the world. In 2005 Amazon launched their Mechanical Turk service, partly to outsource some of their own internal tasks that required an element of human intelligence. These tasks are termed Human Intelligence Tasks (or HITs for short) and are typically small discrete tasks that are relatively easy for a human to perform but almost impossible for a computer to accurately complete. In return for completing each task, the human worker is given a cash reward, typically ranging from a single cent to a few dollars depending on the time involved. The person who provided the work (known as the Requester) can choose to accept the work given and pay the worker, or he can reject it if he feels it is not up to standard and not pay at all. This has obvious appeal to businesses that deal in tasks that are appropriate for crowdsourcing, but that are used to more traditional (and expensive) methods of
employment. Now there is no need to take on permanent employees; instead they can turn to a massive pool of labor on demand, paying for just enough labor to get their required tasks completed. What we must also ask is, "What is this going to mean for the worker?" If we look at the HITs typically available on mechanical turk, the rewards given for the time involved would result in a wage considerably lower than minimum wage levels in most developed countries. The rewards may be attractive to those in developing countries, so long as they had affordable access to the Internet. Strangely though, the user base seems to be largely rooted in the United States. A possible reason for why people do this for such low rewards might be that they regard it as a form of recreation or a way to make a little extra in what would be otherwise idle moments. Alternatively, it might be a supplemental income for those that do not have the option of traditional employment, such as stay-at-home moms or the severely disabled. While mechanical turk was the first example of this kind of large-scale automated outsourcing, Amazon seems uninterested in developing the concept further. Other companies have instead taken up the torch and moved the concept to the next level. The main focus of the new startups is to improve on the project management side and provide a much more complete service. Some of these new startups, such as CrowdFlower, choose to layer their services on top of Amazon's already established mechanical turk platform. CrowdFlower is keen to emphasize the positive aspects that crowdsourcing can bring to the less well off. For example, they have paired with Samasource, an organization that provides computer-based work to those in Africa, in order to allow the residents of a Kenyan refugee camp to work on their projects. Workers take shifts on equipment provided by Samasource, and their earnings are then spent on improving the quality of life within the camp. While layering services on top of mechanical turk reduces infrastructure costs, others are taking their own approach such as ClowdCroud, which operates its own platform as a facebook application. While CloudCrowd has spent additional time and resources developing its own platform for crowdsourcing, this has some very substantial benefits. Firstly, it has enabled them to implement their own credibility system that assesses workers based on past work. Having this enables the company to control which workers have access to certain tasks. For example, a worker with a high credibility may be allowed to review the work completed by lower rated workers. This system also allows more complex tasks to be implemented. Credential tests are implemented that allow workers to qualify for specialized work requiring more skill, such as English editing, translation, copy writing, and other project specific work. Another notable crowdsourcing company is ClickWorker, which is based in Europe and, like CloudCrowd, also operates its own platform. ClickWorker tends to focus on more complex tasks such as article writing and translation, and it has an extensive system of base and project assessments (some automated) that qualify workers for various tasks.
It remains to be seen how the crowdsourcing market will pan out, it could be taken to areas not yet explored such as software engineering. For instance, software design techniques already exist to break tasks up into manageable pieces and test the results from those pieces; all that is required is a programmer to create the code in between. A step in this direction has already been taken by uTest, which crowdsources the testing of software and web applications. Visit the The Quill for up-to-date information on crowdsourcing related topics.
Outsourcing, somewhat of a reviled word but the establishment of production and support facilities on foreign soil is not where it ends.
The concept of crowdsourcing has now appeared, where work is broken up into discrete tasks and assigned to workers based around the world.