The reason CrowdFlower can offer its service cheaply is that it farms out "small bits of work" to many people with quality results, Ferrier said. Workers can be stay-at-home moms in the U.S. or workers in an African city who are accustomed to finding unusual ways to top off a cell phone with more minutes.
Jobs that CrowdFlower might handle include finding three sentences of Web content on a financial tool such as a 401k, so that a 401(k) provider can see what is offered already or what it might consider offering.
One unusual opportunity comes from branding companies who want to aggregate what a company's customers are saying in their tweets about the company. It is fairly easy to see how many tweets are related to a company with existing tools, Ferrier said, but the CrowdFlower workers could be asked to find out what people are "actually saying" in their tweets by reported comments or categorizing them into favorable or unfavorable tweets.
"It's called sentiment detection," Ferrier said.
Another work-intensive task might be to hire CrowdFlower and its workers to scour business listings in a phone directory or some other listing to see whether a business has moved or gone out of business. Workers could then add in new information, such as adding hours of operation or a restaurant's menu items.
CrowdFlower's estimated pool of 1.5 million workers provide a million results (called "judgments") per day, Ferrier said.
CrowdFlower has revenues of between $5 million and $10 million a year, and expects to be profitable next year. The business began in 2008 and employs 65 workers, Ferrier said.
Customers are charged per unit of information being sought, though Ferrier didn't offer more pricing details.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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