Today’s post comes from David Alan Grier, crowdsourcing expert and author of Crowdsourcing for Dummies. He tackles the question of who makes up the crowd. Check out his previous post for Owler.
By it nature, crowdsourcing is a long tail activity. Once, the advocates of the process often argued that crowdsourcing would put nearly 8 billion workers at our disposal. Now, we know better. If you look at almost any crowdsourcing process, you will see that most of the work is done by a small fraction of the crowd. In trying to expand crowdsourcing, we often think that we merely need to get more people to work by paying them more. This notion mistakes the basic nature of crowdsourcing. We expand our crowd by identifying those who are have the skills to work and offering them the right incentives to be part of our crowd.
The long tail of crowdsourcing is illustrated in Figure 1. The horizontal access describes the amount of participation. The members of the crowd who do no work at all are on the far left. Those who do great deal of work are on the right. As you can see by the height of the curve, most workers do little work. The group that does the bulk of the work is represented by the shaded part of the tail. As the graph suggests, most of the time, relatively few people do most of the work.
In many ways, commercial crowdsourcing benefited by getting its start in the first year of the Great Recession of 2008. At that time, there were a large number of skilled workers who were looking for something to do. They needed to supplement their income or even merely earn a basic wage. Crowdsourcing was a way to earn money. It also suggested, as new technology often does, that it offered a new and revolutionary way to change industrial processes. For many people, those two incentives were enough to bring them into the crowd and make them active workers.
Crowdsourcing still offers all that it suggested in 2008 and 2009 but it has changed and matured since that time. Perhaps more to the point, the people who organize and manage crowdsourcing have matured and begun to understand how it works. Rather than believing that the crowd is waiting on the Internet, ready to do the work, they recognize that crowd work is motivated by two factors. Instead of trying to encourage an undifferentiated group to crowdsource, you can use those two factors to divide the pool of potential workers into four categories with a 2×2 table. In that table, only once cell contains workers that are doing most of the tasks. A second cell contains the workers who might be encouraged to contribute. A third cell may possibly provide some new workers, but will require more effort from you. The fourth cell can be safely ignored.
The 2×2 table that represents the crowdwork force is given in Figure 2. The horizontal access is divided into to the people have the skills that you need and those that don’t. The vertical axis is divided between those who are inclined to work and those aren’t so inclined. The cell with the most productive workers is in the upper right, the members of the crowd who are inclined to work and have the skills. The long tail is found here.
Below the long tail cell, in the lower right, are the workers who might become part of the long tail. They have the right skills but aren’t inclined to work. The problem for the crowdsource manager is to move the members of that cell into the cell above it. That action fattens the long tail. It gives you more capacity for crowdsourcing.
In the upper right, next to the Long Tail, you will find workers who are inclined to work but don’t have the necessary skill. Usually, you will need extra patience and extra expense to get these prepared. However, you may find it worthwhile to devote that patience and expense. This cell often contains far more workers than those who fall in the lower right corner, the ones with the right skills but are unwilling to participate in the crowd.
While I will discuss the challenges of motivating and training the crowd in subsequent postings, I will note that the key lesson of the long tail is that you need to know your crowd. We are no longer living in 2009. We don’t’ have a surplus of skilled workers ready jump into crowdsourcing nor even a group of people who are new to the workforce and believe that they are going to change the world with a crowdmarket. As with all forms of employment, you need to know who is available to be in your crowd, how you can motivate them, what you might expect from their work. This is what the last 6 or 7 years of crowdsourcing has brought us. We know more about crowdsourcing processes but we also need to use our knowledge to make crowdsourcing work well.
David Alan Grier
David Alan Grier is a writer a scholar on technical workforces. He is the author of Crowdsourcing for Dummies, a Fellow of the IEEE, and a member of George Washington University’s Center for International Science and Technology Policy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org