Calling upon the Crowd- The New Economy Week
ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTORS Margaret Jacobi

Photo courtesy of James Cridland.

The rise of user-generated media through avenues such as Facebook, Tumblr, Wikipedia, and YouTube, makes traditional distinctions between producers and consumers more ambiguous.

The crux of capitalism, production, and profit has always been finding the most functional and efficient way to run each respective business. With each passing decade these developing techniques have matured from localized manufacturing, to national, to international, etc. With demand for cheaper labor, outsourcing becomes one of the most lucrative ways for companies to save.

Matured understanding of these rapidly changing dynamics in the advent of the internet has brought a new way to offer new jobs within our country. With practically the entire world at our fingertips, companies are now starting to understand how to utilize this vast, seemingly ubiquitous workforce, necessitating a new business model: crowdsourcing.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

There are different definitions and degrees for this vague term, but on a base level, crowdsourcing is the effective use of collective intelligence.

“There are a lot of very talented and educated people out there that, because of our economy, are looking for work,” says Ken Stoddart, CrowdSource.com’s Vice President of Sales. “Crowdsourcing enables those types of people that are looking for work or looking for ways to have additional income to go to a marketplace, do work they find enjoyable, and make some money doing it. The benefit to us is that there are so many of those people out there, that we can make that work available to them with fair rates to do it. What we’re able to accomplish are large-scale projects that are turned out very quickly because of that.”

Some tributaries of this concept include crowdfunding, crowdvoting, creative crowdsourcing (such as Wikipedia), or prize-incentivized contests.

Strictly from a business perspective though, the effective employment of an online population can be rather complicated. For CrowdSource.com, this process is simplified through the combination of their software platform that took three and a half years to develop, and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, an internet marketplace where both people seeking work and companies seeking a crowd can connect.

The tasks distributed by CrowdSource.com are based on qualification tests each person in the “crowd” undergoes in order to establish their strengths. Once these tests are taken, the software platform categorizes the worker in order to provide them with the most suitable assignments.

“When we distribute work, it’s specific to projects in most cases. In circumstances of things like a technical writing task, we might only have 50 or 75 workers that really fit the mold to do that type of task, so our system, our scalable workforce platform allows us to just distribute work to that group of profiled workers that we know can do a good job at that,” says Stoddart. “Then there are other jobs where we need thousands of workers to do less challenging tasks, categorization, search relevancy, or even content that needs to be written that doesn’t necessarily need to be of the highest quality that we can distribute to a larger pool of workers.”

This latter type of work, a large-scale project constituted of thousands of small tasks, might be one of the functions in which a crowd can be the only way to complete the work in a timely manner.

For CrowdSource.com, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is the perfect tool for accomplishing projects for large-scale retailers or enterprises, who might need thousands of short, new product descriptions, or maybe categorizations distinguishing a heel from a tennis shoe, for a new seasonal product line.

Photo courtesy of Crowdsource.com.

Conglomeration of innovative thinking can also help pinpoint creative solutions for research and development projects. One of the most obvious examples of this is Netflix.com’s $1 million challenge to any software developer who could find a better method for distinguishing customers’ movie tastes.

Another approach to crowdsourcing is employed by CambrianHouse.com, which provides a platform for publicly submitted software projects that are voted on. If one such idea is incorporated into the project, the user who submitted it will collect royalties.

Lastly, iStockphoto.com, which was recently acquired by Getty Images for $50 million, is rapidly transforming the way stock photos are garnered. The site allows both amateur and professional photographers an arena to submit photos and receive monetary compensation when they are purchased for use.

With avenues for crowdsourcing constantly oscillating as new websites continue to enter the market, critics charge that in frequent cases the practice devalues work. It must be difficult to make creative work without any guarantee of financial profit, but the trend already seems to be underway, and just as the structure of the marketplace and economy fluctuates, so must those involved within it.

“From a very large scale perspective, we believe that the industry is still very much in it’s infancy,” says Stoddart. “It’s changing the way work is getting done; it’s changing the way tasks are accomplished to really help companies to market much more quickly. Our whole theory behind crowdsourcing is certainly not to replace jobs, but to really supplement existing internal work forces to get things done as quickly and efficiently as possible. We see this space growing significantly, we’re constantly trying to improve our platform and continue to grow with the trend. By all means we are quite confident that this is going to change the way work gets done and we’re very excited to be a part of it.”

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