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OpenStudy’s Catapult Update: Get Paid To Learn

26 Jul

OpenStudy Catapult Update

OpenStudy’s newest update, Catapult, is an effort to incentivize learning by giving students the opportunity to get paid for it. Through the website, students can set up simple learning goals like “get an A on this essay” or “finish my science fair project”. Friends and family can then pledge money towards those goals, and the student collects if the goal is reached.

OpenStudy has always been about polish, and it shows in how put-together this service is. Catapult is free to use, although OpenStudy and the payment system take a few percentage points for fees. A feature I especially like is the ability to post constant updates on your goals; if it looks like you’re doing well, or like you could use an extra push, your sponsors can donate extra money. Plus, making your goals known gives you extra accountability, which is another push to Get It Done.

Of course, I am not without my concerns. Offering money for studying has been effective in the past when it’s just between a student and their parents, or a similar setup, but I worry that adding it to a system like this may pull students away from the primary incentive of learning. There are already students who treat their final grades, and not the knowledge itself, as the end goal; this additional reward may push them in the wrong direction. It’s a minor concern, but one to keep an eye on nonetheless.

All things considered, I’m excited for this update. My parents gave me money when I was a kid if I made the grades, and I distinctly remember being ecstatic. OpenStudy has once again broke the mold with a feature that makes learning more fun and less of a hassle. If you’re a student, check it out, set up some goals, get knowledge, and get paid.

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Zaarly Opens Up The Goods and Services Marketplace

24 Jul

Online “quest board” Zaarly is a neat way to get your overwhelming tasks done with the help of your fellow man. It operates similar to Milk.ly in that people who desire help will post their task on the site’s collaborative crowdmap, and other users who choose to help will get paid the listed amount for it.

Zaarly

I like apps like this that crowdsource small tasks to local help. It’s a get way to enhance both local economies and communities, and it’s a good opportunity for someone who’s a bit of a specialist to take on some relevant jobs and show their town what they can do.

This is why I’m excited to see what comes out of Zaarly’s new “Zaarly Anywhere” API. The update would refocus the app on products in addition to tasks. For example, if you were browsing Pinterest and saw a really great carved wooden chair, the Zaarly API would give you the option of posting a task asking local craftspeople to make a similar chair for you. If you see one you like, you pay the price, and the chair of your dreams is in production without you ever leaving your seat.

I see a deep well that this technology could draw from. The advent of sites like Etsy has made us all too aware that there are talented artists and producers literally right down the block, and I’m sure they’d love another opportunity to showcase (and sell!) their skills. And I can already imagine this will have some impact on the tech support / computer repair industries if it catches on; people will stop using these services once they realize their neighbor’s kid will do it in half an hour for a fraction of the price.

Personally, I would love for applications like Zaarly to create some sort of money-free economy where people simply trade help for other help. But until then, getting a few bucks for helping someone set up their LinkedIn profile isn’t bad.

Gaming, Porn, and LEGO: The Common Thread (Part 2 of 2)

25 Jun

Last week, I highlighted three companies that, for one reason or another, have welcomed the emergence of crowdsourcing with open arms. Video game mods allow players to add their own content, LEGO’s CUUSOO brings fan-created models to store shelves, and amateur pornography… well, enough said.

I promised you then, dear readers, to soon reveal what makes these companies so right for crowdsourcing. And so I come to you today to present the two key traits that these companies share.

The first trait is intrinsic, meaning that it has to do with the very nature of an industry; either they have it or they don’t. This trait is the fact that these industries all represent pastimes that are typically enjoyed alone.

  • Lengthy single-player games like Half-Life and Skyrim can’t really be enjoyed in a large group; add to this the “geek” stigma still surrounding video gaming, and you get a hobby that tends to be solitary.
  • It’s fine for kids to play with LEGO, but when it’s full-grown adults we again see a stigma preventing mass public acceptance.
  • Porn? Figure it out yourself.

If you’re getting ahead of me, you’re calling BS at this point. “That’s nonsense!” you cry, “I go to LAN parties and arcades, there are a million local LEGO groups, and there’s even such a thing as adult movie theaters and kink communities…”

“Ah but you see,” I’d say in response, “those groups are specifically designed for enthusiasts.” Unless you’re a big fan of the aforementioned activity, you wouldn’t seek out these groups. And these aren’t universal interests like art, movies, or music; if you can’t find a special group with which to share your passion, you’re stuck going it alone.

This is the key element that makes these industries ripe for crowdsourcing. They have a highly passionate user base who unfortunately is largely unable to share their passion. But given a platform on which to present and the guarantee of a similarly eager audience, enthusiasts are more than willing to show the world what they’ve created.

Furthermore, we’re seeing some crowdsourcing efforts fail for the movies, music, and art industries specifically because they are so popular and universally  accepted. Businesses pick up on the fact that vast amounts of money can be made, and it becomes a game based around competition instead of shared passion. Keeping the subject matter specialized guarantees that the only people who will seek it out are the truly interested.

This segues nicely into the second trait, which is less intrinsic and more reactionary. It is this: LEGO, gaming, and porn all noticed that people were getting into their products enough to want to create their own. So they let them. It’s so simple it’s hard to tell if it’s the effect or the cause. But often the only thing an industry needs to make crowdsourcing work for them is to simply let the people who want to help do so.

Let’s not be unreasonable, of course; you should still definitely make money off them. Crowdsource a LEGO set design, but sell it retail or on the official website. Allow game mods, but not without buying the “vanilla” copy of the original game. And (by all means!) solicit amateur porn, but put it on a website that’s absolutely dripping with paid ads. Profits soar, you toss the original creators a (tiny) cut of the earnings, and everyone walks away happy because they have inexpensive, high-quality new content.

After these pieces came into place for me, I had to look back and check to see how many other campaigns grew from typically insular activities that were given a chance for public recognition. It didn’t take long to find several. It would seem this is the real deal, so if you’re hoping to take advantage of crowdsourcing, here’s your bottom line. Tap into previously silenced interest groups, and simply let them help. Control the process, but if you give a passionate person the ability to enact some real positive change, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised every time.

Gaming, Porn, and LEGO: Bachelor Weekend or Key To Crowdsourcing? (Part 1 of 2)

19 Jun

I started this blog with the intention of bringing crowdsourcing to the masses. To do so, I knew I would have to uncover real-world examples of it that most people had interacted with. Today, I write to you because I have realized this goal; I found amateur pornography, PC gaming, and LEGO bricks.

Porn was a topic I wanted to discuss at one point or another on this blog, because I recognized that it was an industry that had whole-heartedly accepted crowdsourcing as Copyright 2008 The Weinstein Companyone of their methods of production. Non-professional or amateur porn has been around almost as long as videography itself, and recently received a huge boon in the form of camera phones and user-uploaded content (“tube”) sites.  This industry was quick to accept crowdsourcing as a form of content creation, when so many others have dragged their feet or actively resisted. Now, they enjoy the fact that they have tube sites like these to generate heaps of content at no personal cost, which helps offset their recent losses in DVD sales.

I sought other entities that had accepted crowdsourcing in the same way, and found the brick-building toy LEGO. Their integration was to a lesser degree, to be certain, but Copyright 2008-2012 CUUSOO SYSTEMnonetheless multifaceted; their websites solicits pictures, ideas, and full-on schematics of any custom model their users have built. They even go so far as to have implemented the CUUSOO program, which takes popular user-created models and packages them as actual retail items that can be bought from the website or a real-world toy store. LEGO understands that even though they are primarily a children’s toy, they still have a not-insignificant portion of adult users who want to show off their creations. And so like porn, LEGO has recognized a need and made steps to fill it by utilizing user content.

And finally we have video games, who take on crowdsourcing in a limited, but more profound way. User-generated content is again the key here, this time in the form of “mods”. Mods are custom modifications that a user may make to a game they own that Copyright 2011 Dread Father & XFrostbitechange the graphics, gameplay, maps, items, or just about any other aspect of the game. These mods are typically collected, shared, rated, and downloaded on community sites that are wholly or partly supported by the game publishers themselves. Games like Half-Life and Skyrim enjoy a massive community of modders, which not only adds to the game’s content but ensures that people will continue to buy it long into the future. Add to this the fact that there are other communities that simply program and release their own games to play, some of which are good enough to make it onto professional retail platforms like Steam or the Apple store. All in all, the gaming industry is one that is largely on-board with user-generated content.

So what is it about these industries that makes them so apt to bring their users into the fold, when so many others have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the world of crowdsourcing? The answer, which I will reveal next week, has implications that could mean a whole new approach to discovering which industries are ready to implement crowdsourcing. More importantly, it may reveal industries that are doomed to crowdsourcing failure before they even start. Tune in next week for Part 2: The Common Thread!

It Would Have Been a Great Story

14 Jun

I was supposed to have a great, full-length post for all of you today, but it turns out I was taken for a ride and my source was fake.

© 2005 Marvin Harrell ~ stock.xchng

It’s a true shame; it was a story about a major company (unnamed; they’re probably catching enough flack for this already) who launched a campaign asking users of their website to design a print ad for the chance to win a trip. Whoever developed this prank, or whatever it is, set up an entire site for submitting, viewing, and voting on these ads.

But as the submissions trickled it, it was clear that they weren’t going in the direction they were supposed to. This unnamed company has some pretty shady business practices, and the vast majority of the submitted ads called these practices into question in ways that wouldn’t be considered “kind” or “not heavy-handed”.

It would have been brutal if it was true. Imagine a company blindly launching a campaign without being aware of the general populace’s opinion of them. And imagine the campaign entirely involved having people plaster whatever message they want on a professional-looking ad with your company’s name and logo. It would have been a fiasco.

Unfortunately, the campaign was created not by the company, but by some outside force that opposed their politics. Further digging into the website proved it was all subtly tongue-in-cheek,  designed in such a way that it would only reveal itself as fake if you gave it more than a cursory glance.

So why was I taken in at first? Because this company wouldn’t have been the first one to make a mistake like this. A big aspect of crowdsourcing that continues to keep some companies away is the lack of control and privacy. When you host a contest like this, it does indeed become exceedingly important what the public’s opinion of your company is. If your company is controversial, crowdsourcing will provide you with messages that promote both sides of the issue. Unfortunately, there is usually one side that yells louder, and that’s the dissenters.

So is there a lesson we can learn from this? Crowdsourcing is best suited to companies that already have a large positive following. Will it completely stop situations like this? No, but a lot of consumers on your side certainly helps support the messages you’re actually trying to promote. Conversely, if your company is afraid of what the populace has to say about them… well, maybe they should reconsider how clean their hands are.

Top 5 Ways to Get Paid With Crowdsourcing This Summer

30 May

The summer stretches out before us, dear readers, and if you’re like me you face the delicate problem of being somewhere between “poor” and “bored”. Like most things, crowdsourcing is the answer. To help ease your summer slump, and get a little extra cash in your pocket, I present the top 5 ways crowdsourcing can keep you busy and (relatively) wealthy this summer. I’ve arranged these in order of difficulty, from easy to hard; the suggestions at the top of the list could be accomplished by nearly anyone, but the further down you go, the more drive you’ll need to succeed.

5. Micro Labor

Piles of coins, a crowd, links, and aspects of globalization, all in one photo. Well done, stock image providers.

In a nutshell, virtual sweatshops, minus the sweating because you can work in your underwear. Sites like Amazon Mechanical Turk, ShortTask, and CloudCrowd offer bite-sized bits of work that can typically be completed in less than a minute for anywhere from a few cents to a few dollars. You won’t get rich doing just a couple, but dedicating a few hours a day to it can provide a significant boost to your pay.

4. Favors

Similar to micro labor, except these require a modicum of skill. The idea is that the tasks are less mindless and the pay is a little better, but you may have to work a little harder to find a task that suits you. The idea is to complete tasks that are easy for you, but too much hassle for whoever posted them. Typically, they require passing knowledge in basic skills like writing, web searches, or design. Examples include MyCheapJobs, which puts a price tag on everything from lawn care to acting like a pet dragon; Fiverr asks what you’d be willing to do for $5; and ChaCha is a text-message-based Q&A service that takes volunteers on as “guides”.

3. Contests

If you’ve really got a hand on creativity, and you’re okay with the concept of spec work and non-guaranteed pay, you can clean up with design contests. Businesses everywhere are turning to services like 99designs to crowdsource logos, marketing art, commercials, and more. If you’re an artistic prodigy, winning even one of these contests can leave you sitting pretty with several thousand dollars. Of course, even if you don’t win, they’re a great opportunity to hone your skills and meet other artists. Poptent Media is another platform that offers such contests, and I mentioned a similar campaign spearheaded by Stephen Fry in a previous post.

2. Crowdsourced Job Platforms

Maybe all the uncertainty isn’t for you, and you just want a real-ass job? Crowdsourcing’s got you covered there too. There are several sites, like TweetMyJobs, oDesk, and WorkFu, that provide open-call job applications, or feature matching software to find suitable work. The variety here is both the strength and the weakness of the platform; you’ll have to pore through a great number of job applications, some of them bogus, before you find a good one. But hey, that’s… pretty much like the real world. At least you don’t have to kill trees printing out resumés.

1. Become an Entrepreneur

For the truly driven! The best thing crowdsourcing does is connect people who have needs to the people who can fulfill them. To this end, you have everything you need to start your new business; from finding funding to locating business partners to crowdsourcing your own market research, the ‘Net has your back. If you’ve got a killer idea, and can use a computer, you can start a business. How’s that for a “how I spent my summer” story?

Know a good site for any of these purposes? Is there a source of revenue I didn’t consider? Tell me in the comments, and enjoy your summer! (Those two suggestions not necessarily related)

The Thing About Spec Work

21 May

I’ve noticed a phenomenon in crowdsourcing that has plagued many a campaign. Spec work is its name, and after seeing it so often I thought it would be a good idea to share my thoughts on the matter.

To start off, spec (speculative) work is any work where you are expected to put forth a commitment to your time and resources without the guarantee of getting paid. A good example of this is the contest model of crowdsourcing, where several hundred teams of creatives may put forward a product only to have one of them selected to receive payment.

I’ll admit, it seems bad. For an amateur artist, time and resources may be in short supply. To lend them out without the guarantee of compensation may be too risky for some. I myself see it as falling under the “Incentive” tenet of crowdsourcing, so let me see if I can’t justify it a bit.

The thing I feel drives a lot of people to spec work is that for them, it’s not primarily about the money. Much spec work is done by non-professionals who are simply looking for an opportunity to hone their craft. After all, spec work is almost always voluntary. Who else would sign up but people passionate enough about their work to do it potentially for free? A lot of contest-model sites embrace this notion, offering their members educational materials or access to other members for learning purposes. Money is a bonus, but simply a secondary concern.

There is something else I didn’t realize until I spoke to a friend of mine who had entered a shady poetry contest in his formative years. He didn’t find out it was a scam until later, and although he was disappointed, he was still glad that he had gotten the chance to show off his work. He told me that the “spec work” aspect of it didn’t bother him so much;  almost all artists start out doing entirely spec work to help them make a name for themselves. It’s part of the game, he told me, and I happen to agree. If you’re trying to get by on creative talent, it’s practically accepted that getting paid for it is not going to happen right away.

So we have the amateur and part-time creatives finding things to enjoy about the spec work model. That leaves the full-timers, the creative professionals, a group I could definitely see having a problem with the concept because they’re accustomed to guaranteed payment for their efforts. But as I mentioned, spec work is both voluntary and primarily not about the money. Full-timers would be wise to mostly avoid the spec work market, leaving it to the amateurs and part-timers. This ensures that companies will still turn to professionals for their highest-quality creative needs.

Voila, spec work in a nutshell. If you’re a non-pro, spec work is a great way to hone your craft and get your name up. If you’re a pro, it’s probably not what you’re looking for. Overall, I’m a fan of the idea; after all, spec work forms the basis of a ton of creative crowdsourcing efforts. What’s your experience with spec work been like? Enchant us with your tale in the comments.

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