Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Crowdsourcing goes professional: The rise of the verticals

Over the last few months, I see a trend. Instead of letting end-users interact directly with the crowd (e.g., on Mechanical Turk), we see a rise of the number of solutions that target a very specific vertical.
Add services like Trada for crowd-optimizing paid advertising campaigns, uTest for crowd-testing software applications, etc. and you will see that for most crowd applications there is now a professionally developed crowd-app.

Why do we see these efforts? This is the time that most people realize that crowdsourcing is not that simple. Using Mechanical Turk directly is a very costly enterprise and cannot be done effectively by amateurs: The interface needs to be professionally designed, quality control needs to be done intelligently, and the crowd needs to be managed in the same way that any employee is managed. Most companies do not have time or the resources to invest in such solutions. So, we see the rise of such verticals that address the most common tasks that were accomplished on Mechanical Turk.

(Interestingly enough, if I remember correctly, the rise of vertical solutions was also a phase during web search. In the period in which AltaVista started being spammed and full of irrelevant results, we saw the rise of topic-specific search engines that were trying to eliminate the problems of polysemy by letting you search only for web pages within a given topic.)

For me, this is the signal that crowdsourcing will stop being the fad of the day. Amateurish solutions will be shunned, and most people will find it cheaper to just use the services of the verticals above. Saying "oh, I paid just $[add offensively low dollar amount] to do [add trivial task] on Mechanical Turk" will stop being a novelty and people will just point to a company that does the same thing professionally and in a large scale.

This also means that the crowdsourcing space will become increasingly "boring." All the low-hanging fruits will be gone. Only people that are willing to invest time and effort in the long term will get into the space. 

And it will be the time that we will get to separate the wheat from the chaff.