Blog Post

Crowdsourcing from the Developing World

Last month saw the launch of CrowdFlower, an interesting venture that applies Dolores Labs’ Labor-as-a-Service platform to the non-profit “micro employment” foundation Samasource.

We’ve previously covered web-based labor and outsourcing services — notably Shorttask and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (s amzn) — that match-make workers and tasks, and I’ve been critical of the unsustainable payment levels for most of the tasks on offer, often at compensation levels lower than minimum wage.

CrowdFlower puts a new spin on this concept, by assigning tasks to workers in the developing world and from communities that really need opportunity. Though the level of compensation for a typical task is still below normal levels in the developed world, the payment goes to communities where the money appears to be having a very positive impact.

Drawn from Samasource’s base of impoverished women, young people seeking opportunity and refugees, CrowdFlower’s workers are trained to undertake a wide range of computer-based tasks such as audio transcription, application testing, remote virtual assistance and data entry.

With workers drawn from Cameroon, Kenya, India, Pakistan, Ghana and Uganda, it’s likely that their English is of a good enough standard to mean that communication shouldn’t be a problem, and feedback mechanisms are available to rate the outcomes of worker’s tasks.

Mobile Altruism

CrowdFlower is accompanied by an iPhone app (s aapl), Give Work, which adds another dimension to the service. With Give Work, iPhone owners tasks can also undertake tasks and donate a little of their spare time. Each task you complete via your iPhone is also assigned to a trained refugee in Africa, who is then paid for both their work and yours.

As I write, the task I elected to undertake was to compare images of sneakers an select the pairs that matched my tastes. This took me around 45 seconds, and I’m hoping my trivial efforts will go to help someone in the developing world.

It’s easy to see something like CrowdFlower as form of “digital colonialism,” but it appears to be having a very palpable impact in the communities and lives of the workers employed by Samasource. In essence, this venture is creating an entirely new culture of web workers with potentially promising careers, as well as re-balancing the inequalities between those with opportunity and those without, though it’s worth noting that it isn’t clear that all tasks are always allocated to workers in need.

CrowdFlower’s enabling a laudable mission, with tangible benefit to society. It’s a venture I’ll be keeping a close eye on as I publishing some work tasks of my own. Read more about Samasource in “Samasource: How African refugees are scoring Silicon Valley Internet jobs.”

Are you working with an innovative charitable crowdsourcing project like this? Tell us about it below.

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