I have written about crowd-sourcing a good bit on this blog including a whole series on Cisco I-Prize (e.g., Cisco Announces I-Prize Winner and Results of Their Global Collaboration and Cisco Announces Second I-Prize Winner) and well as reports on some of the vendors (e.g., Spigit Offers Release S3 to a Maturing Market and Another Enterprise 2.0 App Goes Mobile - Brightidea Innovation Management). So I was really interested in some of the latest moves in this space as I read as I read Catherine Shinner’s comprehensive report on Crowdopolis LA - Or How Work Will Work.
As she reported, the Daily Crowdsource hosted Crowdopolis at USC's Davidson Center on Thursday, July 19. It was a fast-paced, day-long event, that showcased crowdsourcing as a growing force in changing the structure of work. It presented new business models, around creating high impact relationships with customers, widening and accelerating innovation opportunities, and streamlining business processes. I urge you to read her complete coverage but wanted to both bring it to you attention and offer a few comments.
Crowdsourcing offers a number of potentially transformative moves including putting efficiency in innovation, building and enhancing expert communities, allowing for micro-work efforts over widely disperse populations, and basically rethinking the way work is done. Catherine offers great examples for each of these. I wanted to share a story about micro-work efforts over widely disperse populations that I participated in a few years ago.
After hurricane Karina hit my home town of New Orleans many people were out of touch with their family and friends and had no way to know if they survived or where they were. The government had failed to set up a common missing person database. As a result, hundreds of siloed web sites gathered hundreds, and probably thousands, of entries about missing persons or persons who wanted to let others know they’re okay. The problem was the data on these sites had no particular form or structure. So it was almost impossible for people to search or match things up. Plus there were dozens of sites
To address this need a few people in Cambridge MA put a central database together in a few days. It was called the Katrina PeopleFinder Project. They asked for volunteers to help with transferring data from the hundreds of sites to this common one. It was possible for a few people to set this up but they needed a crowd to pull off the data transfer. This was a perfect crowd-sourcing micro-task project and it worked.
The organizers went to the Web and recruited tens of thousands in a few days. I started working on this. There were good instructions and a non-technical person like me could do it. You took data from one of many separate databases and added it into a central one. There were several benefits in addition to a single source to find people. You took databases with different formats and put them into a common format so searches and sorts can work better. Also, many entries have multiple people and we created separate records for each individual.
It was concrete way for people to help remotely as you had time. There was wiki admin front end and you took 50 records at a time. It was a wonderful example of creating micro-work tasks in a crowd-source environment. The work gave also volunteers a closer personal look at the displaced people. It let you see who was looking for who and the status of this search. Some of the individual stories emerged. It is small thing to do but you saw the names of people directly impacted by Katrina and hopefully helped a few people find others or get notified of the status of people close to them.
These same principles are being used for a variety of tasks, For example, as Catherine reported, both Amazon Mechanical Turk and the Finnish start-up Microtask use a process of parsing out mini-pieces of work to a distributed work force. Microtask conducted a joint project with the National Library of Finland to index the library's archives in order to better enable web search of those resources. To help decipher and validate the library's archives, Microtask created an online game, Digitalkoot and with a voluntary workforce that engaged in the game, completed 5.2 million microtasks in the first 9 months of the project. There are many tasks like this one and the Katrina People Finder Project that lend themselves to crowd-sourcing. I can only see it continue to grow and can be a great way to engage people in solving problems remotely at a pace they can manage.