Why Labor as a Service is as Cloudy as it Gets

When thinking about cloud computing, it’s easy to get caught up in the technological innovations. Often overlooked, however, is the tool that made all this high technology possible: the human brain. What if we could access that resource via the cloud, too? As I detail in my weekly GigaOM Pro column, we can. Some call it “labor as a service” (I like LaaS), others call it “labor-on-demand,” but everyone should call it cloud computing.

Perhaps invented by Amazon Web Services in the form of its Mechanical Turk offering, the LaaS market is now taking off. Startup CloudCrowd this week announced $5.1 million in Series B funding for its service, while fellow startup CrowdFlower was the subject of an in-depth interview with O’Reilly Media. The spectrum of use cases for solutions is broad, ranging from book reviews to editing to software testing, and beyond. If something requires human judgment that can’t be replicated in an algorithm, it’s a prime candidate for LaaS.

Cloud computing is more about a set of capabilities than it is about any specific technology set, so who’s to say silicon has to do the actual computing? Developers turn to traditional infrastructure as a service because they can get CPU resources when they need them, for as long as they need them, and without having to go through the expense and bureaucracy of purchasing, installing and managing physical resources.

LaaS does the exact same thing with employees (only application development is far easier: “Do this.”). Via GUI, submission form and/or API, customers designate how many workers they need, for what task and for how long, and pay accordingly. The LaaS provider handles everything else: finding, training, evaluating and paying the workers, then delivering the results to the customer.

Ultimately, I think models like LaaS will force us to look at cloud computing far beyond the current scope of IaaS, PaaS and SaaS. We’re seeing services take hold now that don’t fit nicely into the definitions we’ve ascribed to these terms, but certainly fall under the cloud computing umbrella. I’d love to hear what you think about this topic: What other types of emerging services warrant their own “aaS” acronym, and how far can we expand the definition of cloud computing before it breaks?

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Image Source: Flickr user James Cridland

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