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Microsoft Wants to Turn Crowdsourcing 'From an Art into a Science'
© Image: Microsoft
editorial

Microsoft Wants to Turn Crowdsourcing 'From an Art into a Science'

Microsoft, arguably the most important company in the world when it comes to driving productivity for both businesses and consumers, is hot off the recent release of Windows 8. And while the company continues to try and preserve its dominance in the global operating system market, it's also looking to get more involved in the world of crowdsourcing, particularly the areas of cloud labor and microtasking.

"Right now crowdsourcing is an art, but we are interested in making that art into science and processes," Rajesh Patel, who is responsible for internal crowdsourcing platforms in Microsoft's Online Services division, told me during an interview at CrowdConf 2012 recently.

Patel and other colleagues from Redmond attended the annual crowdsourcing industry conference to help stay up to speed on the nascent industry's development.

Daniela Braga, a program manager in Microsoft's online services division, explained that while Microsoft has its own strategy for crowdsourcing, it is still very interested in scouting "what's out there (in the industry.)"

Patel and Braga told me that as they survey the broader landscape of the industry, they're keeping an eye out for potential gaps where Microsoft might be able to contribute.

Braga said her team is working on challenges such as internationalization and how tasks are split into microtasks, among other details, to evolve products with more natural user interaction and that have the potential to be scalable and cross-platform.

Neither Braga or Patel indicated that any products for businesses or consumers will be available outside Microsoft's digital walls anytime soon, but Patel made it clear that the company's interest in crowdsourcing runs much deeper than simply paying lip service to an emerging industry trend or buzz word.

"Any team anywhere needs crowdsourcing and can benefit from it, (some) just don't know it yet," he said. "Some teams know it, but face challenges."

Those challenges might include difficulty in breaking tasks into micro-tasks, or working with crowdsourcing platforms that aren't yet mature enough in a specific market or geographic part of the world. But Patel still said that overall he sees crowdsourcing as having "infinite potential."

"Any task you have, there is somebody in the world who can do your task faster and efficiently at cheaper cost... the question is, how do we (put the platform and processes in place) to enable this untapped skill base and then channel it to different use cases?"

When it comes to how crowdsourcing might play into what Microsoft is currently working on, Patel said the new Windows 8 operating system -- designed to work on touchscreen systems like the company's own new Surface tablet/laptop hybrid -- will make not only users, but all sorts of workers more mobile, accessible and connected.

"It's like everyone is walking around with the work in their hand, so why not connect the workers and the people who need to get work done. That's the enormous potential."

See the full conversation with Braga and Patel below:

 - Eric Mack is Managing Editor for Crowdsourcing.org.  He has covered business, technology and politics for more than a decade for major outlets including CNET, CBS, AOL, NPR, Wired, and the New York Times.  You can contact him at eric.mack@crowdsourcing.org. Find him on Twitter and Google+. Also be sure to follow Crowdsourcing.org on Twitter.

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