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Summary:

Crowdsourcing is often used for fairly menial tasks: correcting databases, screening offensive images, transcribing audio. But what if you could make those little bits of human labor even more menial, discrete and interchangeable? That’s what the Finnish company Microtask does.

A Microtask visualization from an animated promo video the company made

A Microtask visualization from an animated promo video on the company

Crowdsourcing is often used for fairly menial tasks: correcting databases, screening offensive images, transcribing audio. But what if you could make those little bits of human labor even more menial, discrete and interchangeable? That’s what the Finnish company Microtask does. I met with Microtask CEO Wili Miettinen and CTO Otto Chrons earlier this week while they were in town for CrowdConf, the first major gathering for the crowdsourcing industry.

Miettinen calls Microtask “the extreme approach to digital labor.” The company’s software divides work into highly standardized tasks — on the level of validating the data in a single form field — that can be completed in 1 to 2 seconds. Unlike something like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, workers don’t get to choose their next project; Microtask queues up new tasks for as long as the person works. Because Microtask can create “strictly defined inputs and outputs” and use redundancy, it can offer customers service level agreements to guarantee its results. You don’t usually see SLAs in crowdsourcing.

Microtask sells its product in two ways. Companies who want to use their own workforce pay for seat licenses. So for example, an existing insurance company customer outsources the process of entering information from paper forms into a database to a division of its own company in the Baltics, Miettinen said, where labor is one-fifth as expensive as at its home office. Or, Microtask will use its own worker pool and extract 10-15 percent of the cost of labor as its cut based on the number of transactions completed.

Miettinen thinks he thinks the next big thing could be outsourcing labor to social games. “Game designers are the experts in motivating people and getting them to do repetitive stuff,” he said. So for example, Zynga could contract Microtask to have its FarmVille players complete menial tasks, rather than pay money or credits, to buy virtual goods to help tend their farms within the game. That might increase the number of players Zynga can monetize; right now only a small portion of players ever pay for virtual goods in social games – less than 5 percent. Finding ways around paying real money for virtual goods is a known opportunity, though offers from companies like Offerpal have been tainted by scamming, and surveys from companies like Peanut Labs are hard to scale in part because the self-selecting userbase of survey takers may not be a great representative sample.

Microtask employs 12 people and has raised €1.2 million ($1.7 million USD) in two rounds from investors including Sunstone Capital. Miettinen previously sold his real-time 3-D graphics company Hybrid Graphics to NVIDIA in 2006.

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  1. The MicroTasking actually is not that new concept, which is a fact with cloud computing and many other similar things as well. At least one person “diggings” this idea has seen how “cloud computing” and “role based mobility” really started to happen, and still, both are exciting but yet evolving concepts.

    First step is to create the technology, 2nd is to create the hype and 3rd is to get “masses” to approve and use it. I thing that the timing of MicroTasking is good, many of the “old players” didn’t make it and the “oldish” workflow -people mostly missed the points (sorry about being direct).

    The next question is that who actually changes the rules enough to change the market enough….

    Cool stuff anyway….

    cheers,

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  2. Interesting post, though the concept is really not new, they are the first company I hear of seriously involved in tasks distribution. I am also sure it’s another step to more home-based jobs.

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  3. Thiago Oliveira Friday, October 15, 2010

    The future: Work and get paid in gifts from FarmVille. This is the end of money…
    And our future resumés will need only one line:
    Previous experiences – Billions of stuff, you know…

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  4. Simply cannot wait to ‘micro-task’ for my next meal… in hell! This future doesn’t sound very enjoyable. I can see some of its allure, but seems like a quick way for even more dis-satisfaction in ones life. “It says here on this correctly filed in micro-task that you ‘fill in the blank’. I’m sorry but we will just have to deny you ‘fill in the blank’, please pursue our ‘fill in the blank’ for further comment micro-human.

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  5. Outsourcing microtast is absolute the future of work. Many people all over the world can be working on your next project you can have designers from Spain, and programmers from Russia working on your project, and the best thing is that you will get a support 24/7

    Marios

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  6. Citizen Austinite Saturday, October 16, 2010

    I love the concept of atomizing the datum. It’s defeated so many attempts to make it cost effective.

    Validation is a simple job, but it’s a menial and monotonous process for whoever performs it. Prone to mistakes when contracted at kph.

    An xml file from a client, translated by the xsl of a game company, to become a ‘task in kind’ for the player to perform as in-game employment! Brilliant, and likely to be deployed as a just-in-time URL fetch when a player needs to buy something!

    Now you’re creating real-world jobs for people who write the schemata, I’ll dub: “Extensible Datum Validation Markup Language(DVML), too!

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  7. I do this kind of work already for another company. I LIKE IT. I can do it at home, and if I am working steadily, I can make about $10/hr. I get paid per piece of data entered. Moms tend to get interrupted 100 times a day, and this work is very amenable to interruption, so it’s one way for me to earn money that is completely flexible around MY schedule. What I do is enter handwritten or typed data from a pile of file cards that were all scanned in. OCR doesn’t work when there are several different people’s handwriting and typewriter styles. The data has standard fields, and I enter the records via a website portal.

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  8. as a retired college professor, i am intrigued. can microtask be applied to education? although i never want to “go to work” again, i would love to continue to teach in a different context.

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