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In the past, when companies had big projects to finish but lacked the resources to hire enough people to do them, they might have called on a temp agency. But why pay even part-time wages when the resources of the entire universe of Internet users is at your disposal?

With crowdsourcing, companies can get various tasks, ranging from the mundane to the highly technical, completed quickly, anonymously, remotely, and inexpensively. Several firms in turn have created a whole new market, selling their help in coordinating the process, such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and CrowdFlower.

People who join such crowdsourcing sites can make a little extra income on the side by completing tasks that fit their skill set, whether that involves tagging a Twitter post or editing a marketing communication. They can work as much or as little as they want, during whatever hours they choose, from their own computers.

In response, even massive companies such as AOL have turned to crowdsourcing. For example, AOL needed an inventory of all of the videos it had published on thousands of its web pages—a job that likely would have taken a small team of employees years to complete.

Instead, AOL crowdsourced the project by splitting up the overall task into multiple micro-projects, each of which was posted on Mechanical Turk. Just a couple of months after the projects were posted, AOL had a full, accurate, and complete inventory. It avoided the costs of hiring a team of new employees, as well as any costs associated with developing the software they likely would have demanded to help them inventory the vast amounts of data. Instead, the total costs of the project were about the same as the expense of hiring two temp workers.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the benefits of crowdsourcing for companies?
  2. What are some possible effects of the growing market for crowdsourcing?

Source: Rachel Emma Silverman, “Big Firms Try Crowdsourcing,” The Wall Street Journal, January 17, 2012.

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