Entrepreneur

Crowdsourcing startup Microtask gets gamers to do some real work

A crowdsourcing startup, Microtask, is ripping crowdsourced labor into even smaller pieces. Microtask’s automated platform splits dull, repetitive tasks into tiny pieces and distributes them over the Internet.

The company announced that it’s pulled in over 25,000 volunteers to help on it’s first major project to date, Digitalkoot (Finnish for Digital Volunteers — Microtask is based in Finland). The volunteers are helping to digitize the archives of the National Library of Finland by playing online games — helping moles to build bridges to be exact.

Volunteers from around the world have completed over 2 million individual tasks, totaling 100,000 minutes, or 1,700 hours of work in just one month. The games are a great way to keep volunteers interested, says Ville Miettinen, CEO of Microtask.

“They know they’re doing valuable work, but the games also provide real gaming experience. [The games] will become harder as the player advances and the player gets rewards for playing well,” Miettinen says. The players type in words that character recognition cannot resolve.

The backbone of the system is a software app called Microtask Platform. It receives the documents, splits them into small packages and delivers them to computers and humans, while optimizing their quality, speed and processing cost, among other parameters.

The tasks are discrete, standardized and completing them requires no training. The work can be outsourced anywhere, says Miettinen. “Bits of digital work could be outsourced to Third World countries.”

Microtask’s approach to crowdsourcing is different from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. With Microtask, workers cannot choose which tasks they will do. They just receive sequential, random tasks on their computers. A typical task could be typing a hand-written word or number into digital format. Such tasks are discrete; the worker doesn’t know where the text belongs or what it means.

The price of one task is approximately $0.0005, or $1 per hour. “Each task takes around two seconds,” Miettinen says. The price is a market price for outsourced call centers. They work during their less hectic moments. Another possible group of workers can be found in social games. Social gamers are often happy to do small tasks in exchange for virtual currency — real work for virtual money. All tasks are done by at least two different people, to ensure quality.

The Microtask approach fits any handwritten text. The company is launching a form processor in the United States on April 19. The service digitizes written forms in a couple of hours. The customer only needs to fax the documents to Microtask. The documents are then split into tasks, delivered to workers via the internet, and returned to the customer in Excel format after a couple of hours.

Microtask’s Miettinen thinks text recognition is just the first step. “In the long term, all human processes that can be standardized will be available as a cloud service,” he said.

Microtask employs 12 people. It has raised a total of $2 million in two rounds from investors including Sunstone Capital. The company is planning another round this spring, hoping to raise additional $2.5-3 million.

Here is a quick demo of how the form processor works:


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