Google Embracing Unintentional Crowdsourcing
from the sneaky-bastards dept
I’m always fascinated by businesses that are built around incentives to multiple parties, where all those incentives align even if not everyone participating is aware of it. One of the best in the business at coming up with such things is Luis von Ahn, who has done research for many years on creating systems online that get other people to do some kind of “work” for you. After the CAPTCHA concept, probably von Ahn’s most famous concept is the ESP Game, which is a game that helps to get much more detailed info about what’s in any image by having multiple play a game to name what’s in an image. People get more points if they match up keywords faster, encouraging them to be as accurate as possible in defining the key characteristics in an image.
Last year, von Ahn went and gave a talk at Google, after which he licensed the concept of the ESP Game to Google (though, Google’s version was too boring to get very much attention). However, it appears that the folks at Google did pick up a few additional lessons in how this concept works. Paul Kedrosky points us to the news that Google is admitting its GOOG-411 project has little to do with taking on the 411 telephone information service, and everything to do with building a better speech recognition system. You see, to build speech recognition, you need many different voices saying many different phonemes (the sounds that make up words) in a variety of accents/tones/pitches/etc. Rather than go out and ask people to speak, Google gets plenty of phonemes just by providing this service.
Cynics may call this exploitation or sharecropping, but it’s nothing of the sort. It’s giving something of value to get something of value — even if not everyone is fully aware of what the exchange really is about. Too many people seem to think the idea of “crowdsourcing” is really just about getting the crowd to do work for you — but that’s not it at all. It’s about setting up incentives so that everyone involved gets value in some form or another, making it a beneficial transaction to everyone.