Nothing in technology should catch your imagination more than microtasking. That's how I feel. Back when I was doing social-media for nonprofits up in Idaho, when I first discovered Mechanical Turk & Sparked.com, I was mesmerized at first glance. (And my swooning has yet to diminish...)
Here was a new idea: break larger projects into smaller tasks, and then offer them up online to anyone willing to take them on. Pretty cool, right? But what makes this ground-breaking?
As David Alan Grier points out, this whole microtasking/crowdsourcing phenomenon is a shift in the control point. This is a completely new development where the public (not just the specially trained worker) is let into the game of (no-strings-attached) work, labor, and is given the chance to interact in creative processes they would otherwise not take part in (For example, an ice-cream truck driver helping make a coloring book).
It's ground-breaking because it's democratizing something that has never been democratized before...
Now, in seeing these platforms, it wasn't necessarily the actual reality that was exciting (people working for pennies online to do silly tasks for researchers and advertisers, etc.), it was the possibilities I saw for the future... a completley new model of social-interaction for sharing work, ideas, & information.
I thought to myself, why isn't everything a microtask? And why isn't it just everyone's job to plug themselves into 'the system'. Human task routing could make microtasking the norm for work in the information industry...
The only thing keeping the current hand-full of microtasking companies from becoming as big as Facebook & social media, in my opinion, is a lack of a method to their madness.
Of course, on sites like Mturk you can create qualification tests (to manage the skill-level of your microtaskers), or you can manually track down the crowd you need to engage them...
But to enable the real amazing power of the crowd, I believe they need to be unified by a system, kind of Like Facebook has unified social-media. Then we need to figure out how to organize real-time microtasking strategies that work & that maybe even create full-time work for people. In other words, we need to create real and enjoyable microtasking virtual work spaces online (something more elaborate than a running spreadsheet of tasks).
On this note, and with this premise, here are my 5 Ideas on the future of human task routing.
1. The best current example of an ideology for task-routing can be found in this paper: Anatomy of Large Scale Social-Search Engine. If you're seriously interested in the field, then I'd definitely consider it worthwhile reading. You can also watch a talk given on the paper here.
This paper is based on my favorite task routing & social-search engine, Aardvark.
Unfortunately the Company was bought by Google, and the service closed it's doors. But, based on their incredibly (previously) useful platform, future succesful task-routing platfroms should model themselves after them thorugh this paper.
2. Microtasking is as much a habit as anything else. To really understand the dynamics of microtasking, you have to do it yourself. Sign up for a worker account on Mturk, and put in a few hours.
See what is possible, feel the frustrations, and experience the life of someone trying to earn a few bucks and hour by microtasking. If you don't want to make money, try being a volunteer on Sparked.com instead.
Human task routing will only improve as long as it becomes a part of everyone's daily life. Only then will we be able to build large and dynamic crowds that can prove the true power of a human task-force.
Quora is free, and (as a user) the motivation is to answer people for the reward of learning and participating & improving public knowledge (as well as proving your expertise to the public). IdeaOffer is based on offering ideas to people (who need ideas for things like 'What's a fun birthday party theme?) in the hopes that they like your idea and pay you for it.
The questions becomes: what are people more motivated by? Being part of a group that benefits them or being paid?
4. While the majority of task-routing is (and will be) through emailing and tables in websites representing open opportunities, there is one new medium that may soon open up.
I predicted it earlier, but in a nutshell: high-tech glasses like Google's latest project will give us the opportunity to stream video to others connected through the web so that we can comment, make suggestions, and add our opinions to what they (& we) are seeing.
When task-routing is combined with this,... this will mean people can have access to expert information about everything they see all the time.
For example, while wearing these kind of glasses, you can know what types of trees are around you, or you can ask information questions like the statistics of the safety of riding a bike without a helmet, etc....all on the fly, without taking awkward minutes to search your smart phone or call someone...You will just see text on your glasses or hear the answer spoken into your ear.
Of course, this will lead to more sharing of our personal life and more asking questions about the world around us. And it will be social too, opening us to millions around the world who want to help each other be more informed.
The effects on society & our daily lives will be enourmous.
5. Task-routing will also go hyper-local. This means we can tap into information about the things around us by asking the people that have been there or live in the area, etc.
If you want to know how BBQ sandwich at a restaurant around the block tastes, why not just ask someone who ate it there last week?
The technology for this is here. If it takes time, the only reason will be our learned behavior and our old habits dying hard.
Are you ready for the future of human-task routing and work? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.