Crowdsourcing specific microtasks

Since the first-ever Mechanical Turk meetup a year ago, there has been an explosion in crowdsourcing services and a well-attended conference in San Francisco. I remain enthusiastic about crowdsourcing, but the number of companies has me worried about quality of work. Fortunately specialization is already occurring, so for particular tasks there are companies out there ready to provide high-quality service.

One company that recently caught my eye is Helsinki (and SF) based Microtask. Founded by Computer Graphics (CG) and Computer Vision (CV) veterans, Microtask has chosen to focus in a few areas where CG and CV are relevant. Aside from speech transcription, they currently provide form-processing (digitizing hand-written forms) and archive digitization services, and have plans to expand into image categorization and video indexing in the near future. By initially focusing on a few specific tasks, Microtask is able to refine its platform while simultaneously leveraging prior skills in areas such as optical character recognition.


A few things about the Microtask platform are worth highlighting. In order to protect the intellectual property of its customers, Microtask never sends complex tasks to the same service provider. Rather tasks get broken up into pieces and scattered across multiple providers. This is fairly easy to do for the types of digitization services they offer. Customers who are wary of sending data to outside servers, can run Microtask’s software on their own servers. (Ordinarily customers use Microtask through a set of API’s.) Finally, Microtask can guarantee quality and delivery time because it has longterm relationships with (labor) service providers. Microtask contracts out with call-centers throughout the world, and tasks* are performed by workers in-between service calls.

Using call-center workers is novel but crowdsourcing seems increasingly tied to social gaming and virtual currencies. Having come from Computer Graphics and Computer Vision, the founders of Microtask have experience and connections in the gaming industry. CEO Ville Miettinen admitted that social gaming integration is a high-priority for them over the next few years. The key is that they want Microtask to fit seamlessly into the gaming experience, they want gamers to be able to stay “in the flow of the game” while performing crowdsourcing tasks. I’m looking forward to what they and game designers come up with — a modern equivalent of Typing of the Dead?

(*) It’s useful to remember that these are simple tasks (e.g., OCR) involving the validation of outputs generated using machine-learning. Microtask uses confidence scores generated by their algorithms to rank and prioritize validation tasks.

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