Thursday, December 23, 2010

Crowdsourcing Taxonomy

I had an interesting debate on twitter with Panos Ipeirotis and Anand Kulkarni about what counts as a crowdsourcing application.

Wikipeidia defines crowdsourcing as
"Crowdsourcing is the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to an undefined, large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open call."
And they are even so nice as to give a list of crowdsourcing projects

These seem to fall into a few areas
1. Microwork. MTurk,, 99designs. You go on mturk you put in a task like "tell me if this sentence is in English" and an amount "1 cent per task" and then you let the people on mturk do the classifications for you.

I think this sort of work will be huge. There are talented people sitting around willing to do something interesting for cash in their spare time just waiting to be harnessed.

Many projects exist to crowdsource advertising ideas. for example IdeaBounty. These advertising ideas seem similar to other microwork projects.

2. Games with a purpose. Galaxy finder, Foldit etc. There is a task like "count the number of spiral galaxies" you put this out there as a 'fun' task and people do it for you free, gratis and for nothing.

This is similar to citizen science projects but explicitly involves the use of fun and game mechanics to get people to do the work.

3. Market mechanisms could be thought of as a form of collective intelligence. In a market the competing forces of supply and demand result on a value being placed on an item. So for example on ebay many people have decided the value of collectible baseball cards. Or on intrade many have decided the probability Obama is to be reelected.

Is market formation a form of crowdsourcing? I think prediction markets are great and should be used more but their placing accurate values on the probability of an event is a byproduct of their action rather than the intention of those operating on it. People would rather if the odds were wrong so they could make money being right.

For some reason I don't think a prediction market is a crowdsourcing application and none are listed on the wikipedia list.

As an aside I read a brilliant blog post two days ago (that I now cannot find) that pointed out that ebay is essentially a storage device. You sell things they go into the ebay and when you want them back you go on the ebay and find the product again and buy it. Your storage costs are usually just the postage and packing charges. This is similar to the argument that there are two ways to produce cars. One is to build factories and hire people and such the other is to send boat loads of cows to Tokyo where magically you get boats filled with cars back in return.

4. Microlending
Kiva and other sites allow you to lend money to business. Say a guy want to plough my field. 10 people give you 5 dollars each so you can buy a plough. The field gets ploughed. They get 6 dollars back after harvest. This again does not seem like crowdsourcing of jobs as you are lending capital not labour.

Artists using a street performer protocol to pay to get an album made is something similar. Kickstarter is one site that does this

5. Wikies, Forums, social search engines, message boards
People on Forums, give their advise and knowledge almost always for free. It is pretty amazing when you think about it. The fact that some very clever and skilled individual is willing to take their time to tell me the arguments to a Java function are wrong is amazing. The wikipedia page does not class these as crowdsourcing but again I cannot see why not.

6. Competitions, kaggle, Netflix, DARPA, Goldcorp and InnoCentive regularly have prizes where they put out a task such as 'improve on our recomendations' or 'make a car that drives itself' and people try to do the best they can at it. I think prizes as a way to encourage innovation are also going to be massively important in the future.

7. Response to events. The guardian set up a webpage to get people to read through all the mp expenses reports to find things that looked excessive and wikileaks have used crowdsourcing to examine the millions of leaked documents and highlight the most interesting.

8. Crime detection. Crowdsourcing has been used for illegal immigrant spotting in Texas and other similar uses.

9. Missing persons. After hurricane Katrina and Steve Fossett's loss crowdsourcing was used to locate missing people.

10. Politics. Oxfam Novib, and other such sites try to use crowdsourcing to create a community based political movement. If these are counted as crowdsourcing ventures I do not see why hobby sites that try promote brewing or knitting are not.

11. Art. Improv everywhere, mechanical olympics, Flash mobs are all listed as crowdsourcing projects.

12. Citizen science. Digitized versions of old weather or other science reports are made available to people to increase our knowledge of past events. Even the open data movement must have some basis in crowdsourcing. If people are not expected to analyse the data there is not much point making it availible to them.

13 Cartography. Open street map, Waze and other projects hope to use peoples GPS systems to build up a map of the environment. This can include real time traffic data.

Reading through wikipedias list of crowdsourcing projects these are the types of projects that occured to me. Most classes are probably wrong and need to be split or combined. Maybe the hierarchy needs to be different. Please comment or write a rebuttal to if you are interested in what projects count as crowdsourcing.