Crowdsourcing can be a difficult concept to understand. The rise of “private” crowds would seem to muddy the waters even further, but this emerging phenomenon is worth a closer look.
Workers participating in labor marketplaces like the Amazon Mechanical Turk or eLance are members of “public” crowds that almost anyone can join. These workers are independent and do any task that suits their abilities from wherever they happen to be. A first attempt at posting a crowdsourcing project to a public crowd can be like bungee-jumping into the unknown—you never know what you’ll run into or what the final result will be. With time to train and analyze a public crowd it can, however, be winnowed down to a team of reliable workers producing consistent output.
With private crowds, on the other hand, assignments are not publicly available and only go to workers who have specific expertise so there is less risk involved. For example, a private crowd of topographic specialists would be able to handle a mapping project quickly and accurately, outperforming the general public.
A particularly interesting type of private crowd is a company’s own employees. Firms that do a mixture of regular, ongoing work and highly seasonal activities (quarterly or annual financial filing dates, tax form preparation seasons, peak travel or shopping seasons) are particularly well-suited to crowdsourcing their tasks. Many companies struggle to handle seasonal work with their regular full-time staff, but are equally averse to deploying external resources because they are hard to optimize due to the cycles of hiring, training, firing, rehiring, and retraining they require. A blend of internal staff and public crowds, however, can solve this problem, stabilizing the company’s resource allocations across busy and slow seasons.
Once a public crowd of screened and trained outside workers becomes part of the workflow, it’s possible to address high seasonal peaks by directing work to the crowd and eliminating bottlenecks. Furthermore, during slow periods tasks that were outsourced during the peak season come back in-house to the private crowd, making the in-house workforce far more productive and cost-effective. In both cases a steady flow of low-priority interdepartmental data tasks are particularly well-suited to filling in the slow periods. Increasingly companies are awash with all kinds of data projects so these no longer have to languish on the back burner in a classic win-win scenario.
Expect to hear a lot more about private crowds in the near future or, better yet, plan for your own!