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Q&A: The Cultivator of the Human Cloud

Q&A: The Cultivator of the Human Cloud

When the term “crowdsourcing” first appeared a few years ago, it was generally used to describe the use of technology to motivate large groups of people to participate in a group activity.

Today, crowdsourcing has taken on a new meaning, often called “the human cloud.” The crowdsourcing concept uses technology to break big jobs into small pieces that can be done by people around the world.

Lukas Biewald,  CEO of CrowdFlower, explains why crowdsourcing is the next big trend in labor.

BusinessNewsDaily: Explain in a little detail what kinds of projects your company uses crowdsourcing for.

Lukas Biewald: Companies use CrowdFlower when they have big, digital projects that can be broken down into simple tasks. These tasks are things that require greater accuracy than computers can provide and more flexibility than you can get with traditional hiring options like hiring in-house or outsourcing.

Our most common projects include sentiment analysis, search relevance, content moderation, and product  categorization. This week, we launched our Business Listing Verification solution for enterprises that need accurate and up-to-date business contact data. It verifies contact information, improves listing attributes such as business name, address, phone number and URL, and supplements relevant data by applying human judgment — rapidly and across large data sets. The solution cleans and appends data to maximize the accuracy and quality of clients' business listings.

BND: In what ways do people get paid?

L.B.: We partner with several labor channels, including Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk). While Amazon Mechanical Turk provides the labor supply, CrowdFlower provides a guarantee of accuracy on top of the work that this labor pool offers, and we offer products that facilitate complex workflows.

Some of the channels, including MTurk, pay people in actual currency, while other channels pay people in virtual currency, like Facebook credits. People doing the work get paid per task. So, a real estate agency might use our platform to verify that an apartment building is where it's listed as being. This task might require someone to go to a specific location and take a picture of the apartment building to confirm its location. This type of task would pay more than asking someone to verify that a given URL is a business's primary URL. What's great about this for businesses is that they pay only for the work that's getting done, not the time that is spent on the task. This also benefits people who are doing the tasks because the more productive they are, the more they can earn.

BND: Why is crowdsourcing better than having part-time employees?

L.B.: For a lot of businesses, the volume of work they have comes in spikes. So it's difficult to predict staffing needs — even when it comes to hiring part-time workers. Small businesses struggle with this because of lack of resources; large businesses struggle with this because of internal bureaucracies. Because we offer a pay-as-you-go model, businesses that need to scale up and scale down really fast can do so.

BND: Where do you see the trend going?

L.B.: Right now, it's a disruptive technology because it challenges the traditional ways that businesses get work done. Rather than outsourcing work to a company abroad that hires specific people for a set amount of time, a business could crowdsource it and open up work to anyone who wants to do it — whether it's for five minutes or eight hours. A lot of businesses might be wary about it, just as they were wary about outsourcing 20 years ago, or cloud computing five years ago. But both of those practices have become the norm for many large companies. I think in the next five years you will see more and more large companies crowdsourcing key parts of their business as they see the benefits. And I think you'll see more and more people doing crowdsourced work as a source of income.