In 2004, James Surowiecki wrote The Wisdom of Crowds to describe the way that groups can aggregate information and use it to make decisions more effectively than an individual. The example often cited was that a crowd was able to guess the weight of a slaughtered ox more effectively than individual experts, when the crowd's guesses were averaged together. However, not all small businesses need an 'intelligent crowd.' Sometimes what's needed is the brute force of a large group of people, all working on an uncomplicated, repetitive task that humans can do but computers can't.
Amazon, the folks who bring you books and other things via their online site, created a service called "Mechanical Turk" that allows people to create such "Human Intelligence Tasks", and parcel out the actions to any workers that show up to do the task. Users have to take a 'test' to prove that they can do the work, and then they work on as many or as few assignments as they want to.
One challenge, however, is that the quality of individual workers can vary, and you, the job creator, are responsible for your own quality control. Enter CrowdFlower.com Luke Biewald, Founder and CEO, told me that in a previous role, he occasionally needed a bunch of people to quickly check local results for search engine Powerset (now part of Microsoft's Bing team), but he couldn't just hire and fire them overnight. He started using Mechanical Turk to parcel out tasks, but found the quality of the results would vary depending on who did the tasks.
Luke and his partners made a decision to create Crowdflower. Their website redundantly assigns tasks to different workers. They then test the results. If multiple workers agree on a result, it gives a higher degree of confidence about the quality of the work. Crowdflower works "on top of" sites like Mechanical Turk, even splitting work across different crowd sourcing sites.
Why farm out this kind of work? Luke described a wedding photography company that assigns a task of looking at pictures, labeling them (Is the Bride in this photo?), and then asks "does this seem like a good photo that someone would want?" The photographer doesn't have to look through a bunch of pictures to judge brightness, or focus, and he also gets a result "bride and groom in the photo."
Christian Wiklund Founder & CEO Skout, Inc. (warning- dating site, not all images are appropriate for a business office), a mobile-focused location-based dating site said "One thing that we have to do is content moderation — making sure there's no copyrighted or explicit material on our site. We used to do this manually, but as we're growing, we either have to hire more people in our operations team, or outsource this in some way. Crowdflower provided a cheap alternative. All our content uploads go to Crowdflower, and we get back an 'approved' or 'not approved' message. This works out really well for us. We did side by side manual approval to Crowdflower's work force, and they were basically equivalent.This kind of work has to be done by people, and this solution is saving us money and time."
Crowdflower marks up 33% on top of the cost of the crowdsourcing sites. The company recently took a $1MM angel funding round.
How could you use a 'crowd' to solve your problems? Give some feedback below.