The very idea that a business can leverage a massive crowd to work for pennies on the dollar compared to full time employees is irresistible. Dreams of a massive crowd working on your business day and night while you focus on growing and serving your customers is an appealing prospect, but, is it too good to be true? Well, that all depends...

What is the “anonymous crowd”?

While there are other crowdsourced workforces, Amazon Mechanical Turk is the gorilla in the marketplace. AMT, as it’s known for short, allows anonymous “Turkers” to sign up and offer to complete HITs (Human Intelligence Tasks) for varying degrees of compensation. On the other end, businesses and individuals post tasks, set their price and the AMT community can jump on the task to complete it. Often the tasks are routine, repetitive and require little to no creativity or deep knowledge. Examples include filling out surveys, moderating social media accounts or moderating images  with certain types of content.

AMT isn’t the only game in town, there are other, lesser known crowds who typically utilize alternative methods of compensation including cell phone minutes and gaming coupons. It sounds great, businesses get labor on the cheap for routine work while workers make extra money by accomplishing menial tasks.

So what’s the catch?

Well, it depends on what type of work you’re trying to accomplish. For one time projects where you need a data set to help make intelligent decisions, or for routine, time consuming work that isn’t necessarily mission critical to your business, the anonymous crowd is a great option. But, if the work you’re looking to have done is truly mission critical to your business, you may want to think twice before entrusting it to an anonymous and unaccountable crowd.

From a business standpoint, an important factor to consider is that there is no customer support, you can’t train workers and there are no Service Level Agreements (SLAs). The crowd is anonymous, so you will have no idea who is really doing the work and little ability to correct problems and almost no recourse if a task is done incorrectly. 

OK...give us an example.

Let’s say you have a solution that provides structured data back to your customers from unstructured sources, an example may be receipt processing for expense reports. Technology, in the form of OCR (Optical Character Recognition), can process a certain percentage of the data, but there will always be a percentage that can’t be completed with even the most advanced technology. That’s where a workforce providing human intelligence comes in.

Your customers are counting on that data to be processed quickly and accurately, regardless of how unstructured it might be. It could be a handwritten receipt with a coffee stain on it, it doesn’t matter, it has to be processed as accurately as a receipt from Wal-Mart.

You could go to the anonymous crowd, and many do, but many also find that it’s not a very scalable solution. As your customer base grows and you’re sending more tasks through the system, you have to deal with more and more anonymous workers on an individual level. Sometimes the workers are there one minute and gone the next so it creates a never ending management headache. When you add in the fact that there are no SLAs and very little customer support, it becomes a very risky platform to entrust your mission critical work to. As you scale, you would think that larger volumes should mean cost savings but on AMT it often means increased costs to gain the capacity you need to power your growing business.

Not sure I trust the anonymous crowd, what are some other options?

You could hire an in house team of employees, this allows you to train and closely manage the quality of work, but it carries it’s own scalability challenges. It’s expensive and you’ll inevitably spend more time managing a growing workforce and less time on your core business.

Another option is to contract with a BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) provider. They will have workforces in places like India and the Philippines, but there are new challenges to consider. Working with BPO companies can be a frustrating experience, they can be very rigid and slow to make changes once the business rules are set, for a fast moving company that lack of flexibility can be a deal breaker.

Luckily, there is another option. You could use CloudFactory (blatant plug alert!). This is what we do. We’ve combined advanced technology and a curated, closely managed workforce to handle routine work that is critical to the success of your business. We train our team to focus on your needs and have the elasticity to handle ebbs and flows in work volume. Best of all we have scalability built into our platform, so our capacity grows as you grow.

The anonymous crowd is great for certain things, but if the success of your businessis at stake you’ll want to make sure you consider all of your options and know the pros and cons before going that route.

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