Microtasking – a new way to accomplish big projects


Microtasking is using an internet site (such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, Crowdflower, Microtask, and others) to crowdsource tasks (usually small) that require human intelligence.  People who participate can be paid or unpaid. Workers are generally paid as contractors.

Positives? Microtasking can be a low cost way to use talent and energy of large numbers of people to accomplish big projects.  Workers also have much flexibility in their jobs.  A number of agencies have been using microtasking to accomplish different tasks such as:

  • National Institute of Health – to identify and verify drugs
  • US Copyright Office – to transcribe, digitalize, and make public registration cards
  • Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) – to transcribe, tag, and classify documents
  • Army Research Labs – to annotate short video clips for DARPA
  • Finland – to digitize its national library archives
  • Food and Drug Administration – to process drug accident safety records


Potential Negatives?
Microtasking can pay people very low wages which may lead to complaints of it being a “digital sweatshop” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_Mechanical_Turk) .  In addition, if data is sensitive to a particular agency, this can lead to security concerns in terms of using the “crowd.”  Finally, a possible negative could be being able to find a large enough amount of people whom are willing to participate in the project.

Final Verdict? 
Microtasking can be a low cost way to find people to accomplish small tasks for big project results.  It seems like it would be a worthwhile opportunity to look into depending upon your agency’s goals and projects.

For more information

–        http://www.govloop.com/forum/topics/fed-agency-using-crowdflower-amazon-mechanical-turk
–       http://www.governing.com/columns/mgmt-insights/microtasking-crowdsourcing-technology-online-solve-government-problems.html
–   http://www.fastcompany.com/3021684/fast-feed/fda-adopts-amazon-mechanical-turk-for-drug-safety-backlog




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