We’ve all see the online CAPTCHAs that make you type in a pair of garbled words to prove you’re not a spam-bot. What you might not know is that by doing this, you are participating in crowd sourcing, a way to gather small amounts of data from large numbers of people. In this case, many of those words are used to digitize old books from the Library of Congress. When a computer can't read the scanned text, it "crowd sources" the unknown word. Once two or more people enter the same word for the garbled image, the computer now knows what that scanned word is. It’s pretty amazing to think a few seconds of time from millions of people can create public works of real value. This is the value of “crowd sourcing”.
Can your business use crowd sourcing? It works well for things that are “hard” for a computer to figure out, but easy for humans. For example, “which of these pictures contain pasta dishes?”. Amazon has a service called 'Mechanical Turk' which farms out work like this to interested people in exchange for micro-payments. Say you're willing to pay a penny a picture to have your images categorized or tagged. Amazon’s service will match up your job with interested parties. Amazon gives you back the results just as if a computer had processed the images, but instead the work was done with human intellegence. The results can be integrated into your data, allowing your systems to act on the new information. In fact, we’ve used services like this to verify that profile photos on a social network were all 'G-rated', and to generate transcripts for video files.
Can your business make use of crowd sourcing?