Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Internet Collaboration

Last week, I blogged about collaborative video making on the Internet. This week I'm blogging a quick survey of current Internet collaboration services. Internet collaboration is a kind of division of labor, where multiple people work on specialized tasks to accomplish an output.

One well known collaborative project is Wikipedia, an encyclopedia of knowledge written by individual contributors. You can build your own Wiki of information for a project or a business using open source TikiWiki software.

Which brings us to open source software, another well known example of collaboration on the Internet. The Linux operating system is perhaps the best know open source product. Source Forge is the best known online service for coordinating open source projects. Along with Youtube, it's possible for software developers to create a software product, then show users how to use it. Here's an example of a video that shows how to use free open source software products to create a website:

There are plenty of other collaborative services available on the Internet. Here are some examples that show the breadth of services and business models used in Internet collaboration.
  • Amazon Mechanical Turk. A marketplace that matches tasks (called "Human Intelligence Tasks") with people who will perform them. For example, today you can earn $0.10 for performing the task "Write Information Technology News & Articles One Paragraph Abstracts."
  • Answer Sites (e.g., Yahoo! Answers, Amazon Askville). These sites help users answer questions that are difficult to answer using Internet search engines or sites like Wikipedia. One of the questions today: "Any ideas to make a boring locker a pretty locker?" Unfortunately, these sites are usually not useful for complex questions that require, say, market research.
  • User Survey Sites (e.g., Survey Monkey, Keynote). These services help website publishers collect survey information from users, often to improve the functionality of the website.
  • Dolores Labs. A start-up similar to Amazon Mechanical Turk, but with services to process more complex tasks with higher quality control.
  • Extraordinaries. A not-for-profit that distributes tasks to skilled volunteers via cell phone. Tasks are short, and include activities like translating documents and giving advice. With phone cameras, it may be possible to deploy a sensor network to solve simple problems like, "where are all the potholes?" Here is their video:

There are other collaborative services in which users solve problems, often to help identify images and often as part of a game or security check where it may not be obvious to the user that he or she is participating in a collaborative activity.
  • Google Image Labeler. A game where players type in keywords to describe an image. Players score points by matching keywords, while Google scores points by labeling images.
  • Clickworker. A service NASA used to categorize space images with help from users.
  • CAPTCHA. Captcha systems verify users are people and not bots by presenting text that is easy for people to read and difficult for computers to parse. When CAPTCHA is used to present words an OCR system can't recognize to people logging in — essentially creating a human OCR — it is called reCAPTCHA.
This quick survey of Internet collaboration shows the variety of ways tasks can be allocated to groups of people.

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