Tuesday, January 26, 2010

How To Crowdsource from the Cloud

Crowdsourcing is the outsourcing of work to a large community of people. The size and quality of Wikipedia and open source projects like Linux and Wordpress are a testament to what crowdsourcing can accomplish.

But what if you do not have a community ready to show up for work? Luckily there are Web services like Mechanical Turk and LiveWorks that can help broker tasks with people who will do them for money.

Amazon's Mechanical Turk allows you to integrate a human being into your application or business process to do work that computer programs traditionally find difficult. Amazon describes work units as:

A Human Intelligence Task, or HIT. A question that needs an answer. A HIT represents a single, self-contained task that a worker can work on, submit an answer, and collect a reward for completing.

For example, if you need to check that user uploaded photographs are not offensive, you can integrate your application with the Mechanical Turk API to submit a HIT for each piece of content that is uploaded. The HIT would require a worker to decide whether the photograph was offensive or not. Each worker who performs a HIT by submitting their judgment call would earn a fee. You decide the fee a worker will earn each time a HIT is done. If you set the fee too low, then you will find it difficult to attract workers to do your task.

Once a Mechanical Turk Worker (a Turker) submits a HIT, the requester can approve or reject the result. These results contribute to the worker's reputation. Mechanical Turk supports restricting the pool of workers who are eligible to work on HITS using worker attributes such as their language skills or their geographic region.

In contrast, LiveWork takes a different approach to getting work done. LiveWork is more suitable to organizations that are looking for a longer lasting relationship with workers, or where the work is more complex than answering a question. LiveWork provides a list of workforces you can hire. Workforces may be an individual or a team who offer different services and rates - often negotiable. Work is not submitted via an API, but rather described via a Project mechanism similar to freelancing sites like eLance and Rent-a-Coder. Once projects are underway, bulk tasks can be created via an upload mechanism. For example you may upload a CSV file containing many sales calls for a workforce make.

The LiveWork site also maintains workforce reputations via ratings, but also via written reviews - a clear indication that tasks require more engagement between client and worker.

The two services provide very different approaches to outsourcing work. LiveWork focuses on building a flexible extension to your business whereas Mechanical Turk facilitates very brief encounters with no enduring client and worker relationship.
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