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Five kinds of work to farm out to the crowd Add to ...

Crowdsourcing isn’t the buzzword it was a few years ago. Instead, it’s quietly transformed itself into a bustling marketplace to serve a number of labour needs.

Not every kind of work is suited for open calls – it’s easier to have a company logo designed at a distance, than it is to hire a general contractor – but in fields like communications and graphic design, the field is now broad, and the tools well-established.

Here are five areas where the crowd stands ready and eager to take on your work:

General marketplaces

Giant freelance marketplaces might blur the definition of “crowdsourcing” – they’re really more of an all-purpose labour pool – but they certainly have the “crowd” part right.

The big marketplace sites, like eLance , Guru and Freelancer.com have labour pools that can reach into the hundreds of thousands.

Matches can be made either by posting jobs that will solicit bids, or by browsing the available talent directly. Writing, editing, translation and software-development tools are especially well-represented here.

The usual caveats apply: The stakes for farming out the writing of a press release are lower than hiring an unknown entity to design a software application.

Repetitive tasks

What if you’re looking for work that’s more about quantity than quality? Try the Mechanical Turk, Amazon’s distributed labour site that’s one of the granddaddies of the genre.

Named after an 18th-century “robot” that appeared to play chess but really had a human hidden inside, the site specializes in hiring humans to perform all manner of tasks that might be easy and repetitive, but still take a human brain.

For instance, imagine having a thousand photos for a real-estate site that need to be tagged according to whether they’re of kitchens, bathrooms or living rooms. You could make an intern’s life miserable. Or, you could farm them out to people on the Mechanical Turk for five cents each.


Translation and localization are another burgeoning market for crowdsourced talent, and a crop of websites specifically supports this process.

For instance, Smartling offers users the choice of human translation, machine translation, or a hybrid of the two. It also promises to keep tabs on your website, so that if you update the original, the translated versions are automatically updated as well.

Meanwhile, MyGenGo promises a network of prescreened translators, in a bid to reduce the risk of open marketplaces.

Graphic design

The idea of open-call graphic design caused a small sensation after sites like 99designs and CrowdSpring popularized it.

Instead of being awarded a contract and then producing work, designers produce a product first, and then a winner is chosen by the client. The process plays out in a self-serve, free-for-all marketplace, which can occasionally lead to rough-and-tumble results.

The model caused grumbling among designers who felt taken advantage of by the format, but that hasn’t stopped tens of thousands of designers from flocking to the marketplace.

Both companies trade in big numbers: CrowdSpring claims that the average project attracts about 110 suitors; 99designs says it has 1,218 projects on the go at this moment. The market is big enough for a number of other firms, like DesignCrowd to offer similar products.

Video marketing

The rise of online video has spurred a vivid new marketplace for video-production services, catering to companies that are looking for online ads, video content, and animations to populate their sites. Some marketplaces take the open-competition model from graphic design sites and apply it to video design: Sites like Wooshii and Userfarm promise fast results, big marketplaces, and low listing fees.

Other video-marketing sites have upscale markets in their sights, including video production for television screens. Well-heeled services like PopTent take the crowdsource-competition model from the graphic design world, and bring it into the higher-cost video marketplace, with a more rigorous framework.

Clients submit a creative brief and assets (like logos and other elements) for competitors to work with; meanwhile, PopTent creates a custom landing page and helps run the competition. Competing teams have 30 days to produce work, which a client selects from.

Meanwhile, GeniusRocket takes an even more rarified approach to crowdsourced video, offering “curated” services, in which a smaller pool of production teams come pre-vetted, and work through a carefully staged production process guided by the company.

Other stories can be found on the Web Strategy section of the Report on Small Business website .

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