I put crowdsourcing to the test to see how quickly and cheaply I could assemble a list of the top 50 US companies' general counsels. This was no academic exercise as my company Black Duck often works with lawyers in large organizations to help them manage open source. I turned to Smartsheet (my now fave crowdsourcing company) and, in really short order for a not a lot of money, learned the product and completed my task with terrific results. Wow!
Here is how it went down:
10:54 Googled "Smartsheet."
11:07 Completed two instructional videos and free live demo.
11:11 Signed up for cheapest plan, $9.95 for one month of access.
11:16 Googled "Fortune 500." Copied the first 50 into Smartsheet.
11:24 Manually identified 4 general counsels to guide writing instructions.
11:32 Composed instructions, launched job, and received email confirmation:
Your Smartsourcing work request has been submitted. You can review an example question below. 50: 1 answer General Counsel is the top lawyer in any company. Typically they have a title like VP and General Counsel, EVP and General Counsel, or maybe just General Counsel. General Counsel Pay $0.05 per approved answer submitted within the next 12 hours. Limit to workers with a 95% approval rating and allow them to reserve a question for 1 hour. Answers auto-approve after 1 day.
Answers per question
They are usually listed on a company website under Corporate Officers or Leadership or Executive Officers.
Companies typically include that information under About Us, Corporate Information or Investor Relations and then maybe Corporate Governance.
An answer includes:
Up to $2.50 (plus $1.00 in commissions) will be charged to your account.
11:59 Ran to class with complete list of the GCs. It was awesome!
OK, it was actually 49 companies. For some reason, #1 Exxon Mobile lagged a bit. And, the data wasn't 100% clean: I had asked for names and 5 of the answers also included titles, which I didn't need. But after a quick chat with Max, the very helpful tech support guy (who answered the phone in seconds) I created and submitted a "cleanup" job to go through the list and expunge the titles from entries that erroneously included them. (Data cleanup is a common application of crowdsourcing.) 8 minutes and two incremental dollars later, I had complete, clean answers!
Now with a vast hour of experience under the belt, I'm guessing I could put together a clean list of, say, all the Fortune 500 CFOs in 45 minutes, for less than $50...and maybe 10 minutes of my time.
Smartsheet's easy-to-adopt spreadsheet paradigm provides a no-brainer front end that makes it a snap to leverage crowdsourcing for many applications. Initially, Dartmouth-dude founders Brent Frei and Eric Browne had project management and collaboration in mind when they conceived of this cloud application. Last year, they added the crowdsourcing feature, so that now with a click, you essentially collaborate with a bunch of anonymous Amazon Mechanical Turk workers who fill out blank columns for you.
Amazon gets credit for the back end, but Smartsheet makes it incredibly easy for users to come up to speed and get useful work done. Crowdsourcing isn't just academic theory: It's here today, it works, and it is (as we say in Boston) wicked smaht!