Microtask, CloudCrowd: Crowdsourcing Startups Put Otto in Automation


“Distributed work, refined for your needs,” is the Microtask mantra. The Finnish start-up “loves the work you hate.” (Our alternative suggest: “We Finnish the work you start.”)

Its proprietary software standardizes repetitive tasks by slicing them into microscopic pieces which, when stripped of identifiable data about a client or the actual task at hand, get distributed online.

The spot above humorously explains how it works — and even winks at the WikiLeaks scandal.[more]

Microtask has expanded on the model of a distributed workforce, first brought to market in 2005 on Amazon via Mechanical Turk. Its current iteration is a virtual bulletin board where ‘Turkers’ choose a task such as (per the New York Times) “2 cents each for finding the contact information for 7,500 hotels and 3 cents each for answering questions about 9,400 toys.” 

Microtaskers virtually complete such tedious, repetitive tasks every two seconds.

“The grand vision is to have many kinds of different tasks,” says Ville Miettinen, Microtask’s CEO, to the Times. “For example, you’d do five minutes of text recognition work, followed by a few minutes of speech transcription, and then a few minutes of comparing pairs of product images to determine whether the two photographs depict the same product — machines have a hard time figuring this out.” 

Microtask is just getting up to speed, but the grand vision includes current conversation with call centers to use their employee pool during down time.

Another disruptive distributive company, CloudCrowd, calls its “widesourcing” instead of crowdsourcing:  “We take tasks like translation that used to be done by a single specialist and break them into pieces so a wide range of people can handle different parts of the work,” says Mark Chatow, VP marketing.

CloudCrowd’s tagline is: “Labor as a Service: Outsourcing on Demand 24/7.”  Exclusively sourcing Facebook members, there are 50,000 workers in the pool, which allows them to undercut traditional translation costs of 20 to 25 cents per word, to 6.7 cents per word.

Microtask’s Miettinen calls it “the extreme approach to digital labor.” A company can pay a set license fee and use its own labor pool, or hire Microtask’s virtual workforce and pay 10-15% of the cost of labor based on the number of transactions completed.

Looking at the digital labor horizon, Gigaom cites Miettinen as seeing the outsourcing of labor to social games. “Game designers are the experts in motivating people and getting them to do repetitive stuff.” So Zynga might hire Microtaskers to complete FarmVille players’ tasks in lieu of credit or money to buy virtual goods to tend their online farms.

“Pure monetary compensation is a 20th-century concept,” concludes Miettinen. “Game-ification” is the next hot thing, as the assembly lines of yore become the virtual microtasks of tomorrow.

Of course, it begs the question of quality control, and who takes responsibility for the finished product — and any mistakes. But it will be fascinating to watch how virtual brands, tapping the skills and wisdom of the crowd, create viable options for bigger companies and brands trying to do more with less.