Amazon.com Advocates Crowdsourcing, Mechanical Turk in NYC
Amazon.com executive Sharon Chiarella used a presentation at the Global Sourcing Forum and Expo in New York City to extol the benefits of crowdsourcing for organizations, citing the companies using Amazon.com's Mechanical Turk platform. Mechanical Turk enlists massive online crowds to help companies complete tasks.NEW YORK - A million strangers could benefit a company more than a handful of highly trained employees, at least if you subscribe to the concept of crowdsourcing. In the case of Amazon.com and its Mechanical Turk, the online retailer's vice president Sharon Chiarella told the audience at the Global Sourcing Forum and Expo here, crowdsourcing drove down costs while increasing efficiency-a model nearly organic in its adaptability to the day's business conditions. Amazon.com developed its own crowd to "make merchandise more discoverable" and "improve the customer's experience," Chiarella said. The crowd can clean data, categorize data for better searching, provide metadata, and even scrub user-generated product reviews of any inappropriate content.
Based on that experience, Amazon.com "decided to expose the crowd to third parties. We started with third-party partners, and then built a platform: Amazon Mechanical Turk," which bills itself as "A Marketplace for Work."
Chiarella summarized the advantages of crowdsourcing as follows:
- No Contract Negotiation: The company can make it clear up-front that workers will only be paid on satisfactory completion of the task at hand.
- Variable Cost Staffing: With crowdsourcing, Chiarella said, "If there's no work in the system, you're not paying workers; if you have work, you can suddenly scale up to 900 workers."
- No Recruiting: Crowdsourcing drives down the need for recruiting overhead.
- Pay for Performance Model: A simple pay structure based on a set amount of payment for a set task.
- No Facilities Management: The crowd working off personal PCs and networks will translate into no overhead for facilities.
- No Training Lead Time: Amazon.com found that crowdsourcing freelancers had a tendency to train each other. When its Kindle e-reader device was first released, freelancers started a Wiki of helpful material to order to help the support community solve customer issues.
- Geo-Political Diversity: Having workers dispersed around the world also allows work to be transferred fluidly within the system, should a bank holiday or natural disaster in one part of the world effectively shut down a country.
- Scale Up/Down Instantly: Some days, Amazon.com needs the crowd to "scrub" a flood of user reviews and other tasks; some days, the number of tasks is low. In either case, by utilizing the crowd, the company can meet the daily work demand without having either too many or too few actual staff.
- Speed: The crowd performs task in parallel, reducing the amount of time necessary to reach a goal. By way of example, Chiarella cited the case of NASA, which released an application through its Website for counting meteor strikes in 88,000 images of Mars. That computation would have taken a NASA scientist two years, but the crowd completed it in a month, with no loss in accuracy.