New from Twitter: crowdsourced analytics

Lost amid the furor around Twitter’s new API restrictions was news that the company has open-sourced Clockwork Raven — an in-house web application that makes it easier for anyone to submit what amounts to data analytics job tickets.  The idea is to get analytics questions out to actual human beings via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (s amzn) and get back “fast, cheap and accurate results,” according to a post on the Twitter Engineering blog.

Mechanical Turk is an online marketplace used by programmers (known as requesters) who post jobs that need the human touch for a set fee. Workers, or “providers” in Mechanical Turk parlance, browse the job list and sign up for what interests them.

What  Clockwork Raven does is make it easier for non-techies to submit jobs to Mechanical Turk, a task which now requires HTML expertise. Clockwork Raven offers an easy-to-use drag-and-drop template builder that anyone can use.

Per the Twitter post:

In Clockwork Raven, you create an evaluation by submitting a table of data (CSV or JSON). Each row of this table corresponds to a task that a human will complete. We build a template for the tasks in the Template Builder, then submit them to Mechanical Turk and Clockwork Raven tracks how many responses we’ve gotten. Once all the tasks are complete, we can import the results into Clockwork Raven where they’re presented in a configurable bar chart and can be exported to a number of data formats.

At the end of the process, results can be exported into tools like R or a spreadsheet.

Needed: the human touch

It makes sense that Twitter, which many use as a crowdsourced news site, is a big fan of crowdsourcing in general. In the past Twitter programmers used Mechanical Turk and CrowdFlower as well as internal systems. But the company felt it needed a better solution as it scales up its use of “human evaluation.”

The use of crowdsourcing and its cousin crowdfunding is a trend for many types of jobs. 99designs is a site for crowdsourcing graphic design tasks such as company logos and signage. Kickstarter, meanwhile, is a popular way to crowdfund projects ranging from mechanical devices and web apps to music, perhaps even journalism.

It’s interesting that in this age of big data and super-automated analytics of that data, the success of many tasks still depends on the work of actual human beings. Twitter, of all companies, is the perfect example of that.

Feature photo courtesy of Flickr user mikebaird