If you're not familiar with the concept of crowdsourcing, you'd be very well advised to get familiar with it. It might just be the key to how you can best execute your next IT project.
The White Paper Version: Crowdsourcing is the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call. The Soundbyte Version: The application of Open Source principles to fields outside of software.
All of that is top-of-mind at the moment because this is coming to you from the 2010 Gateway to Innovation symposium in St. Louis, where Lloyd Taylor, former VP of technical operations at LinkedIn and a consultant on scaling IT systems, gave an intriguing presentation on crowdsourcing. Taylor cited what is probably the best-known example of a successful crowdsourcing endeavor: Facebook's 2008 project to translate its site into dozens of foreign languages.
Taylor noted that 64 languages have already been released by the worldwide crowdsourcing community that Facebook tapped, including several right-to-left languages. The cost to Facebook: Zero.
But what really seemed to catch the attention of the crowd at the Gateway to Innovation event was the crowdsourcing work being accomplished by Samasource, a non-profit organization that taps the Internet to provide income-generating opportunities for people in need, including the victims of natural disasters and other refugees.
Taylor, who is a member of Samasource's board of directors, noted that the organization is currently focusing its attention on Haiti, where, among other initiatives, it's enabling refugees who speak both English and Creole to earn an income. These individuals are translating emergency SMS messages written in Creole so that English-speaking relief workers can get aid to where it's needed. As Taylor noted, there are a lot of educated people in refugee camps, and for them, $10 a day is a fortune. The notion of tapping such a resource for IT-related work at the very least warrants discussion.
Taylor also made the point that we're still years away from the Web 3.0 vision of an algorithmic Semantic Web. He noted that humans are still uniquely adept at extracting meaning from information, and crowdsourcing is ideal for leveraging that capability. His advice to IT organizations is to start piloting crowdsourcing tasks as soon as possible.
That's advice well worth considering. If we had begun piloting Web 2.0 applications at a correspondingly early stage, IT would have a much better handle today on how to leverage social media to improve business processes.