Crowdsourcing is not new, but startup CrowdFlower is taking the concept to large businesses with a systematic cloud-supported service designed to be faster and cheaper than hiring people to do massive e-commerce evaluations, fact-checks, and related work.
CrowdFlower uses its own patented CrowdEngine technology and about 1.5 million workers worldwide who are given short tasks that are then collated and checked for accuracy. CrowdFlower then passes the results back to its customers.
[ In the data center today, the action is in the private cloud. InfoWorld's experts take you through what you need to know to do it right in our "Private Cloud Deep Dive" PDF special report. | Also check out our "Cloud Security Deep Dive," our "Cloud Storage Deep Dive," and our "Cloud Services Deep Dive." ]
CrowdFlower hopes to reach out to online retailers, marketers, and a host of other businesses with the general availability of its service announced on Tuesday. So far, it has named eBay and Microsoft as early adopters.
EBay used the service to verify information provided for products posted on its Web site. By using CrowdFlower, eBay found it could cut costs by 70 percent over hiring its own workers -- and get results in a fifth the time, said Ryan Ferrier, vice president of product marketing at CrowdFlower.
"We're able to take the cloud computing model and apply it to outsourced work because we're able to tap into people who are already on computers," Ferrier said.
CrowdFlower finds the workers, whom it calls "contributors," through 50 third-party channel partners who often reach out to the workers through online surveys or social gaming and social networking sites. Contributors might be asked to do 10 minutes to two hours of Web-based research, for which they could be paid with extra cell phone minutes or bonus points in an online game.
For example, Embee Mobile works with CrowdFlower and offers free mobile minutes to crowdsource workers; Gambit offers virtual currency online, Ferrier said.
CrowdFlower takes the responses, often from thousands of people, and looks for 90 percent consistency in an answer, he said. In addition, CrowdFlower does its own assessment of accuracy before passing the information to its customers.
In the eBay example, Ferrier said contributors in one task were asked to find the Universal Product Codes online for specific products being posted on eBay. With that information tabulated and verified by CrowdFlower, eBay was able to attach a UPC to a product for sale.
In addition, CrowdFlower's crowdsource workers helped eBay put a product in the proper category on its Web site. For example, an iPhone 3G would go under the electronics or smartphone section, not the computer section, he said.
In addition to looking for 90 percent agreement on tasks from contributors, CrowdFlower also scores workers on their performance and gives more credence to answers from workers who have gotten 90 percent or above on previous tasks.