An entire class of crowdsourcing exists where the crowd does not need to be motivated at all. What if the crowd does not even know it is doing work? I call this "passive crowdsourcing", as opposed to the typical active crowdsourcing (articulated in the crowdsourcing taxonomy umbrella).
Passive crowdsourcing relies on being able to gather information produced as a result of the existing behavior of a crowd of users or customers.
If we include sales data analysis in this category -- everything from supermarket loyalty cards to Google analytics on clickthrough rates -- passive crowdsourcing is even older than active crowdsourcing. One of the most famous online examples of passive crowdsourcing is the pervasive reCAPTCHA which supplies websites with images of words from books and requires visitors to decipher the contents to prove that they are in fact human. By entering the correct information, users are unknowingly helping to digitize books. The project has so far transcribed the entire New York Times archive and has been acquired by Google to further digitize traditional print content.
Information + Location
To realize the power of passive crowdsourcing, many companies have sprung up and are using social media to track trends in various verticals. Companies like my own are adding a new dimension by using Geo-Location & adding location information to social media content. For example, to measure the efficacy of an advertising campaign one can look at the change in sentiment and number of mentions on Twitter. Similarly, we have proved, you can predict election results from Twitter data around 7 days before the polls. In this case, the applications are not asking users to report information; rather passive crowdsourcing listens to what is being reported in a public forum. The wisdom of the crowd is already out there, we just need to tap into it.
If you build it, will they come?
Active crowdsourcing applications tend to emphasize ease of use to attract a crowd. By reducing the barrier to entry, the application is accessible by a larger crowd and the data collected is more accurate. As we continue to design these user-facing systems, we should take inspiration from passive crowdsourcing where the barriers to entry are so minimal that users do not even feel like they are working.
Three lessons from passive crowdsourcing:
1) When crowdsourcing applications are fun, it makes it easier to recruit a crowd and their results are often more accurate. What if instead of farming corn on FarmVille, users were actually completing a microtask contributing towards a project?
2) The crowd is talking -- we need to listen. The crowd has wisdom beyond the direct clicks we ask them to do. Gather as many metrics as you can from the crowd by tapping into social media or their actual behavior in your application.
3) Go to where the crowd is. Instead of trying to attract your own crowd to your application, it is wise to tap into existing social networks and places where people already congregate.
Have you ever thought about the power of passive crowdsourcing? How do you think it could be used?