July 23, 2010

Crowdflower: Toward a world of crowdsourced labor

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Crowdflower: Toward a crowdsourced world from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaOne of the most interesting start-ups that keeps popping up on my radar screen is Crowdflower, which connects nonprofits and companies with people around the globe looking to work on crowdsourced tasks.

It’s a fascinating glimpse at future contract labor models and at how work relationships are becoming more distributed, global, ephemeral and efficient.

Crowdflower takes simple tasks and breaks them down, using a global network of workers to determine, say, if a tweet about a brand is negative or positive, or if a piece of content violates a site’s community guidelines.

The person might spend 2 minutes on a task, an hour, or more. “The advantage is that the person doesn’t have to drive to work, they don’t even have to sign up for a website. They can just come to a job post, accomplish a task and get paid — in minutes,” says Crowdflower CEO and founder Lukas Biewald.

I spent three minutes chatting with Lukas at an extremely noisy rooftop party at South by Southwest Interactive. The video won’t win any awards for aesthetics — I was being jostled while holding a Kodak Zi8 hi-def camcorder — but it’s evidence that when you meet interesting people, it’s good to have a handheld recorder in your pocket.

Watch, embed or download the video on Vimeo

One mind-blowing angle: You’d be surprised at the number of people willing to perform tasks, such as in a Facebook game, in exchange for virtual currency that can buy them more trees in Zynga’s Farmville or more weapons in Mafia Wars. “People don’t realize how much this virtual money means to people,” he says.

Its website says Crowdflower provides access to an “elastic workforce” of more than a half million workers in over 70 countries — including refugee camps and developing nations where a few dollars go a long way.

As I understand this, CrowdFlower workers (they call them “customers”) complete large-scale jobs on a piecemeal basis in a quick, efficient and inexpensive manner. Similar in some respects to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, the arrangement is task-based and avoids the need for lead time and overhead associated with traditional hiring and outsourcing.

Samasource, which we’ve written about in here and here, has a similar but somewhat different model that’s focused on ongoing work relationships with specific groups in developing countries.

Both Lukas and Samasource CEO Leila Chirayath were on a panel at the Commonwealth Club this spring that I caught. Crowdlower, Samasource, Ushahidi and FrontlineSMS were also involved in Haiti relief efforts using crowdsourcing and mobile phones, which we wrote about in February.


Samasource enables socially responsible outsourcing

Helping Haitians via mobile, crowdsourcing & social media

An app to support refugees working in Africa

Harnessing the crowd for social goodJD Lasica, founder and former editor of Socialbrite, is co-founder of Cruiseable. Contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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