Online crowdsourcing platforms are growing at double-digit rates and are starting to attract the attention of large companies. Just as cloud computing offers unconstrained access to processing capacity and storage, what the authors call the “human cloud” promises to connect businesses to millions of workers on tap, ready to perform tasks and solve problems that range from the simple to the complex.
Although the initial concept for the human cloud was to create an eBay-like marketplace for talent and labor, there were obstacles. The simple auction model seemed ill-suited for large, complex undertakings.
The model was also often perceived as too risky by managers, who had a hard time developing “virtual” rapport with workers. Today, four new human cloud models have developed, each aiming to overcome these problems in a distinct way:
1. The Facilitator model connects suppliers and buyers directly through a bidding process but offers increased visibility into the supplier’s identity and work processes. Elance and oDesk are examples of this model.
2. The Arbitrator model enables buyers to compare the inputs of multiple providers before choosing which to purchase. Arbitrator platforms such as CrowdSpring and InnoCentive follow this approach.
3. The Aggregator model breaks down a job, such as proofreading, translation, transcription or tagging, into tiny bits of work — microtasks — and finds workers willing to complete these tasks, sometimes in the context of a game. Platforms like Amazon Mechanical Turk and CrowdFlower offer such capabilities.
4. The most sophisticated model, the Governor, provides project management, supplier certification and quality control to assure qualified coordination and management of complex projects. The authors note that harnessing the human cloud’s power will — as with earlier outsourcing waves — require hard work and learning. Buyers may find it helpful to think about managing a human cloud initiative much the same way that they manage the main phases of any outsourcing engagement.