Happy Birthday Mechanical Turk

November 13, 2006

I missed it but others didn’t. Mechanical Turk celebrated it’s first birthday on 2nd November. Happy Birthday Mechanical Turk!

Redefining Crowdsourcing

October 30, 2006

The introduction for the original Wired article about crowdsourcing reads:
“Remember outsourcing? Sending jobs to India and China is so 2003. The new pool of cheap labor: everyday people using their spare cycles to create content, solve problems, even do corporate R & D.”

There are three important words in that title: outsourcing, jobs and labor. Each of these words implies that work will be rewarded financially.

If the whole premise of crowdsourcing were to be based on the premise of payment, then discussions of ‘what is crowdsourcing’ would be simple.

Digg would be nothing without it’s an active user community, but it does not pay them so it is not crowdsourcing. Wikipedia relies on volunteers to contribute content but does not pay them so it is not crowdsourcing. Amazon encourages users to write reviews of books but does not pay for them, so it is not crowdsourcing. Nowpublic.com relies on it’s user community to post news stories but does not pay them for contributions, so is not crowdsourcing. All these are examples of great user communities but they are not examples of crowdsourcing.

Mechanical Turk exists to link workers to work and pay them for it. The principle behind the site is to allow someone to post a task which they need someone else to complete. This can be because specialist knowledge is required or because it’s tedious job that someone else will be willing to do for pennies.

Cambrian House is asking for ideas for software that they can produce and sell. They ask the crowd to submit ideas, they ask the crowd to vote on the ideas and they ask the crowd to contribute work towards designing and building the final product. If you are involved in the project you get a royalty payment based on the success of the product.

iStockphoto allows you to upload your artwork, photos and videos so that others can browse and buy your work. Selling uploaded work wasn’t an after thought, it’s why the site was designed – to connect those looking for stock artwork and those looking to sell it.

Threadless is a t-shirt site that only sells designs contributed by users. Designs are uploaded and voted on with winning designs being put into production. The beauty of this being that you know a design is going to sell because the users on the site are also your customers.

The term crowdsourcing may not be around for very long if it’s definition continues to be watered down, or is it time to redefine the term?

This article was prompted by comments at Horse Pig Cow and further discussion at Billions with Zero Knowledge.

YRUHRN Book Here Right Now

October 15, 2006

After only 50 days and with over 1000 contributors, the book of Why Are You Here – Right Now? has been published as a free download for a limited time. The e-book is available via Lulu.com with a paperback version also available.

Much of this book has been produced via contributions via Mechanical Turk, with contributors being paid for their stories. Much of the marketing activity was also crowdsourced by posting tasks on Mechanical Turk.

Now that the book has been published there is even more work to be done to spread the message with tasks such as creating a marketing flyer, blog postings, podcast mentions and photos of promotional t-shirt wearers.

This project has been a great example of both crowdsourcing and how Mechanical Turk can be used to monetize user contributions.

Student Turkers

October 14, 2006

Paylancers is a Mechanical Turk focused blog discussing crowdsourcing.

There are already some interesting posts including the suggestion that students make the ideal turkers for various reasons including high speed internet connections on most campuses, the lack of a car meaning that telecommuting is ideal and that they are low cost smarts.

Many Casting Words Tasks Available

September 14, 2006

Casting Words had a promotion last weekend where they were offering bonuses to the top podcast transcribers. There were 70+ hits available and still appear to be plenty now.

Peacefire Circumvented

September 13, 2006

After posting about Peacefire offering $10 to install their Circumventor software I asked Bennett Haselton why he chose to try spreading the software via Mechanical Turk.

I think there are several reasons why this is a good “crowdsourcing” task:
(a) When you pay for an expensive dedicated host, much of what you’re paying for is the near-100% uptime. With our Circumventor systems (where people have redundant URLs to fall back on if one goes down), you can live with 80% uptime, so the “cost” of the hosting goes way down, to the point where many volunteers host the URLs for free.
(b) Regardless of their talents, almost anyone with a broadband connection has something they can contribute, since most of their bandwidth on any given day is not being used.
(c) In order to get around Internet censorship, you need many nodes running Circumventor-like software, rather than one central server, which can be blocked easily. So not only is the task suited to crowdsourcing, but it would be very hard to run without it.

This task has now been de-listed from Mechanical Turk for nearly a week. Bennett has had little contact from Amazon to correct the problem.

There appear to be a lot of problems with MTurk:

  • The first two transfers from my bank account failed and nobody knows why
  • When the first two transfers failed from my bank account, I didn’t get an e-mail about it, and I had to log in to find out
  • You can’t edit the alloted time, the payment, or the task description for an existing HIT. (Perhaps this is intentional. Obviously after someone has agreed to take on a given HIT, you don’t want to change the parameters on them while they’re in the middle of it. Rather than letting you edit the HIT but having the old payment/description still “frozen” and applied retroactively to people who have already signed up, maybe it’s easier from their point of view just to have you make a new one.)
  • If a requester has a tech support question, each answer comes from a “do not reply” address, and if you want to follow up, you have to fill out a new ticket on their site and explain everything from the beginning again

So Bennett, is Mechanical Turk the future?

It seems there are less than 100 HITs available on the entire site. If there are really that few, you’d think they could devote more personal attention to each one.

I love the *idea* of something like Mechanical Turk — that’s probably why the bugs in the implementation are all the more frustrating.

Censorship Gets Crowdsourced By Peacefire

September 7, 2006

Peacefire are trying to spread their Circumventor software by paying you $10 to install it. And they’re doing this via a HIT on Mechanical Turk.

Peacefire.org was formed to campaign for freedom of speech on the internet. The Cirumventor software is used to give your PC a URL which others can use to circumvent Internet censorship.

To help create more Circumventor URLs that more people can use, we are offering anybody $10 to install the Circumventor on your PC and share out the URL with us. We’ll distribute the URLs to people who need them, such as people serving in the U.S. military overseas (where Internet connections are censored to limit access to sites such as MySpace), and victims of totalitarian dictatorships such as China, North Korea, and high school.

You need to install the software on an ‘always connected’ machine and the payment will only be once the machine has been up for a week.

Make a stand for Internet Censorship and get paid at the same time.

Help promote the Circumventor at Digg.

Update: Amazon has pulled this HIT from Mechanical Turk. Read more in the below comment from Bennett Hasleton at Peacefire. Looks as though Amazon are doing their bit for Internet Censorship!