Paying the Crowd

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We've been following the growing popularity of crowdsourcing, the idea of getting folks to perform Web-based tasks for a fee (espoused by Amazon with its Mechanical Turk concept).

New variants are popping up all the time, including Netflix's recent announcement of a contest in which it will pay $1 million to folks who produce workable ideas to improve its customer recommendation system. (More of a marketing gimmick than actual crowdsourcing, but we digress.)

The Netflix example notwithstanding, many crowdsourced chores are less complex and thus involve small amounts of money (which is part of the appeal).

While the idea of crowdsourcing intrigues us, we had been wondering how the average company could cost-effectively compensate workers. In Amazon's case, it cleverly offers Mechanical Turk workers purchasing power on its site, but this is an option that most companies obviously do not have.

It didn't take long for a logical solution to emerge. As reported in a recent Wired article, a company called ChaChaSearch (which provides assistance with complex Internet searches) will load its workers' wages onto a prepaid debit card. The workers will track their wages by clicking a "Pay Me Now" button on a personalized page at the ChaCha site.

According to the article, ChaCha thinks the potential of instant earnings will help attract college students and other qualified workers. We agree. We'd also note that this type of payment is far cheaper on ChaCha's end than cutting a check.