Crowdsourcing Pitfalls for Productive People

On Thursday I attended Crowdsourcing for Social Good a great panel, with great attendees who I witnessed cook up some great things the mixer time surrounding the panel. Here I’ve written up one cautionary note about crowdsourcing for people who are engaged in their work, and a few notes from the evening.

I don’t think that for most high level people crowdsourced work is the highest leverage way for them to give back.

Crowdsourcing is undervaluing the importance of focus and in the importance of thinking about something for a long time to do anything innovative. Advising, consulting and mentoring I think are higher leverage uses of spare time. Productive, engaged workers shouldn’t consider spare time, spare processor cycles. Most people do mindnumbing work the whole day so it’s okay to tap their spare time for spare brain cycles. But people who are really engaged in their work need these little respites to recharge. Anyone who understands that the currency of productivity is energy will intuitively make the decision to use spare time to recharge but the majority of people ascribe to the theory that time is the currency of productivity and will underestimate the negative impact of using their spare time to crowdsource worthy projects.

Of course, I’m only warning a small minority not to spend their energy crowdsourcing and by and large I think crowdsourcing combined with social networks will do tremendously positive things for society moving forward.

So many people have spare cycles. But that’s because most people don’t have engaging work. It’s true that if productive people feel like they are really doing good it could have energizing effects by satisfying their need for meaning but finding meaning in microtasks even if it’s for good cause would be like spiritual junk food. What if we had billionaires who instead of becoming philanthropists, just decided to do some microtasks and it satisfied that desire or need to give back. A lot of philanthropy, for better not worse, is motivated by the emotional benefit of giving for the benefactor, but what if they could derive benefit much easier from microtasks, without the same positive effect on society?

A few more notes on crowdsourcing:

What kinds of things can outsourced successfully?

Work that can be systematized and isn’t mission critical and it’s simple to train someone to do.

There’s so much untapped labor potential in the developing world.

Crowdsourcing removes the friction of matching supply and demand in the labor market. Elance and Odesk make that a lot easier, they reduce friction. Lower and lower barriers and more fluidity is huge.

Crowdsourcing and the media is really exciting. Social news is the future

Game dynamics are important, so that people have a self-interest and can stroke ego and do well at the same time.

We have a billion more people coming into the labor market and due to unemployment many they turn to illegal enterprises. Train them to create their own companies, social entrepreneurship instead of relying on finite number of jobs in current job market. Plenty of good ideas worth working on.

Mechanical Turk — It has become more mainstream due to recent obsession with lean startups.

If edufire wants to test a new feature they use mechanical turk to have people to test out a page and run through features and say what works and what doesn’t. And all the permutations get tested because you have 1000 people testing it.

People love the creativity involved in critiquing edufire’s page because they get to think, and say things like, “wouldn’t it be cool if you used this tagline.”

How big is the market for crowdsourcing? There is a limit to how much knowledge can be broken into tiny bits and still be useful. Almost all innovation is dependent on synergistic design thinking. But certainly the crowdsourced market isn’t even close to being saturated.

Mechanical turk has 51,000 tasks.

ODesk has done 87 Million . 200,000 people

Elance 211 Million — 200,000 people

Crowdsourced, outsourced, opensourced often get conflated.

74% of U.S. citizens don’t volunteer.

If you have american volunteers do stuff for free because it’s embedded in social games that takes work away from refugees who could get paid to do crowdsourced work.