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The next workforce may be built on 'crowd labor'

Posting in Technology

Just as crowdsourcing is radically opening up the way ideas for innovation are gathered, and crowdfunding is opening up new avenues of venture funding, "crowd labor" may open up the way work is accomplished. Once technological and organizational barriers to the approach are resolved, there will be benefits to both businesses and professionals.

That's the gist of a new report by Joseph Turian, Ph.D., published by GigaOm Pro. Turian points out that crowd labor, in which tasks are delivered and return piecemeal, over the Internet, already has an impressive record of success:

"The promise of crowd labor is that it is inexpensive, on-demand, and elastic outsourced labor. Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT) is perhaps the best-known crowd labor provider, but plenty of other services exist in the space. The current competitive areas of the crowd labor market suggest that many commoditized applications will soon be built on crowd labor. For example, photo-moderation and sentiment-analysis services built on crowd labor are already commonly available. In 2011 Zappos used crowd labor to improve the writing quality of product reviews, which led to an increase of revenue estimated in the millions of dollars."

Crowd labor is similar to crowdfunding because both "connect buyers and sellers," Turian explains.Most crowd labor work involves the outsourcing of generic business processes, such as researching and gathering data, generating content, transcribing, and processing invoices.  In fact, traditional business process outsourcing is increasingly moving toward a crowd labor market, he adds. Turian provides additional examples of typical projects:

  • Social media management. "Think of social media accounts where all or most of the content is generated by crowd labor."
  • Retail analytics. "MobileWorks describes how retail-store surveillance footage is coded into a structured format by the crowd so that retailers can analyze and optimize brick-and-mortar profit, asking questions like “What percent of customers leave the store within 2 minutes of entering, without a purchase?” and 'Where do they go in the store?'”
  • Granular sentiment analysis for ad agencies. Ad agencies want to answer questions such as 'Does the person think my product is cool?' or 'Did they blog that my car is fast?' CrowdFlower's Senti service offers this service on demand."
  • Product merchandising. Servio has an integrated product-merchandising solution that offers “keyword research, writing, editing, marketing, working on metadata, the acquisition of images, the resizing of images, and the generation of appropriate HTML format for resulting output.”

Crowd labor currently has some limitations -- most offerings depend on specific platforms from individual vendors, and need to be more scalable. Once these limitations are overcome, opportunities for new forms of work, driven by an open market, may become more of the norm.

(Photo: ICANN.)

— By on November 13, 2012, 11:31 PM PST

Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure