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!



November 12, 2006

There’s another great crowdsourcing post over at Billions With Zero Knowledge. There’s a tongue-in-cheek attempt to coin another term with goldsourcing!

He’s referring to the project by Goldcorp where they made available their raw geological data to enlist the crowd to help them locate the next gold stash, with huge success.

Gannett Embraces Crowdsourcing

November 4, 2006

The news that Gannett is trading in it’s newsrooms for Information Centers is being heavily discussed. Most are viewing it as an opportunity to lose staff and rely on the public for news. Although, the details of the plans read more like an attempt to retrain ‘old media’ staff to prepare them and Gannett for the future.

Jeff Howe at Crowdsourcing.com is closely involved with the story and is posting regular updates.

Other coverage so far:

And a roundup of conclusions from Crowdsourcing.com.

Crowdsourcing Discussion at Wired in Second Life

November 4, 2006

Jeff Howe appeared at the virtual Wired office in Second Life to discuss crowdsourcing with Wired editor Chris Baker.

Without providing a transcript here, because it will be made available at the Wired Game Life blog, the items of the discussion which interested me were:

He feels that the definition of crowdsourcing has been discussed ad nauseum.

The purpose of the original Wired article wasn’t to put a word to the phenomenon. It was to identify the same underlying phenomenon in lots of varied places: photography, computer sciences, mountain bike design, shoe design, video entertainment.

“Second Life is just about the purest form of crowdsourcing.”

About Linden Labs: rather than get developers to create content they built the infrastructure and content creation tools. This plays to the nature of the Internet and people in general.

There is something inherently encouraging and beautiful about user generated content, it enables people to leverage their creativity in ways that previous generations could not. Crowdsourcing is not synonymous with user generated content, it’s a term applied to the model to exploit user creations and personally I don’t see anything wrong with that.

Morally, Linden do owe the community a great deal.

It’s incumbent on the crowdsourcee to figure out if they’re being exploited. If your user generated content is worth something, figure out how to sell it.

As the the class of content consumers gets larger so does the class of content creators.

Mechanical Turk never ever EVER have problems with tasks being fulfilled. This is the central mystery of crowdsourcing. One telling attribute is “at any given time, someone, somewhere is willing to do just about anything for some amount of money”. It’s just a matter of improving the network to facilitate the exchange.

A central assumption out there is that there’s money out there for people’s creative works.

Cambrian House has been smart in attracting crowdsourcees because they don’t make it seem like work.

And all that took about an hour to get through. And the first of it’s kind that I’ve attended in Second Life. It was a great way to take part in a ‘live’ event.

The topics discussed here will now no doubt be discussed ad nauseum here and in other blogs as we all continue the understand this emerging phenomenon.

The Sweat of the Crowd

November 4, 2006

When Chris Messina referred to crowdsourcing as the neue sweatshop he was coming from an anti-corporation, or pro-community point of view.

I would assume that he’s referring to the Mechanical Turk model of crowdsourcing where you can land yourself a lot of work for very little reward. Although there is no requirement to take a task you consider underpaid. There is no minimum number of tasks to be completed on a hourly, weekly or monthly basis. It is not billed as a replacement for you day job. It is certainly not even billed as a community. There are no aspects to the site designed to encourage interaction with other users. You come, you work, you leave. (OK – maybe the sweatshop analogy does apply here!)

There is at least the offer of financial return which is not an aspect of most online communities. If a crowdsourcing project aims to steal someone’s work or intellectual property then this is clearly not correct.

iStockphoto is a community of photographers who are paid for their contributions to a stock photography collection. Everything is in order. Your work is labelled as your work and protected under licence. Payments for work are clearly displayed. Payments are handled on your behalf. The company is actually part of Getty Images. In this example, crowdsourcing as a sweatshop couldn’t be further from the truth.

While the sweatshop analogy for cheap labour is relevant it does imply corporations stealing from the efforts of an individual. Something which any individual would always have the decision to avoid.

Virtual Wired Crowdsourcing

November 2, 2006

Jeff Howe at Crowdsourcing.com is having a trip to the virtual office of Wired in Second Life for a discussion on crowdsourcing and it’s use in games and virtual worlds.

Details of the GameLife discusson indicate that the discussion will be at this virtual location at this virtual time.

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.