Value versus Cost: Why Microtask Projects Can Struggle to Deliver

Crowdsourcing 4_9Weighing cost versus value is an assessment that is an essential part of virtually every business decision. However, as more businesses utilize crowdsourcing as a new approach to delivering work, the drive to focus on achieving the lowest cost can interfere with the ability of extracting the most value.

Although crowdsourcing is celebrated for its ability to breakdown work into tasks that can be completed by the masses, microtasking isn’t always the best approach for delivering optimal business value to the client. Some businesses attempt to execute microtasking projects which focus on one part of a task per crowd worker, but see the project struggle to meet quality benchmarks. Because microtasking failed, they conclude that crowdsourcing is ineffective. They throw the baby out with the bathwater, as the old saying goes.

At no point does anyone stop to ask if the small size of the task negates the value of that task being completed by a crowd worker. Furthermore, when microtasks are made too basic, crowd members no longer receive satisfaction or gratification from their participation. It becomes mindless work that requires no critical thinking, which is an invitation for mistakes.

Step back from the enterprise for a moment to consider this analogy: what if you were to microtask your weekly grocery shopping? Initially, there’d be a rush in the door by a mass of people each responsible for one item. Some individuals would travel farther within the store (and complain about it), while others head to the same place – like the produce section — to pick up items that are side-by-side. Some might give up on their task all together if an item is out of stock or not in its expected location. At the checkout, a few key items are likely to be missing or incorrect, and what you get charged may not be what you expect.

It’s an interesting mental picture, isn’t it? Surely the process would be completed more thoroughly and effectively if certain tasks – like selecting the produce – were bundled together. The quality would further improve if the crowd was empowered to make judgement decisions, such as selecting a generic brand if the name brand is sold out. Participants would also feel as if their time was being used more valuably.

Apply the grocery shopping analogy to the collection of data to construct business profiles.  It’s not much different, but still, it’s common to hear from businesses that initiated a microtask project that required multiple workers to visit the same website, each collecting a different piece of data. One person would find the street address; another the zip code; still another the phone number. Is it the most efficient way?

Microtasking has a definite place in the crowdsourcing ecosystem, especially when conducted through a managed crowdsourcing delivery method, as opposed to a platform service. For example, Lionbridge successfully works with several states and the IRS to microtask tax form processing through a secure environment.  Each crowd worker handles one piece of data (scrambled and removed from context) per assignment. Because the project is executed through a managed crowdsourcing delivery model versus a platform service, the accuracy is about 99.9 percent.

However, for many other projects and business objectives, such as research or data collection, doesn’t it make more sense to bundle a group of tasks together for one crowd worker to tackle? In the past year, we successfully used our Business Process Crowdsourcing model to reconstruct with increased efficiency, quality and customer satisfaction a number of projects where prior microtasked crowdsourcing platforms failed to deliver value.  We also provide a unique and extremely valuable layer of multilingual capabilities, which are especially important for businesses expanding their global footprint.

Leveraging a managed approach with a partner experienced in sourcing the crowd, designing workflows, executing projects and reviewing the quality requires a larger upfront investment than utilizing an “out of the box” platform service that forces the business to take on these responsibilities. However, the managed approach still provides significant cost savings over other traditional delivery models, such as full-time employees or outsourcing. It also adds significant value in helping the business achieve its goals by accurately, efficiently and reliably completing a project as expected.


Have you witnessed a microtasking project struggle to meet quality benchmarks because microtasking was the wrong approach?  Do you agree more emphasis is placed on cost than value when businesses evaluate a crowdsourcing project?

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