Crowdconvention 2011: a designer’s taleJune 27th, 2011 by Harry Seppala
To most people, summer equals sunshine, holidays and over-budgeted action movies. But to the crowdsourcing industry, summer means one thing only: convention season is finally here. As Microtask’s senior designer I spend most of the year stuck at a desk doing “vital creative work” like planning smart UIs, animating company videos and occasionally exploring invisible buildings (though that’s a story probably best kept for parties). So for me, Crowdconvention (held June 15th in Berlin) was a fantastic and rare chance to meet other designers, size-up the competition and generally mingle with the cream of Europe’s crowdsourcing crop.
The atmosphere at this year’s Crowdconvention – proudly co-sponsored by Microtask – was open and friendly. Companies were surprisingly willing to share information on topics ranging from worker-accuracy and ethical concerns, to privacy and security issues. The Microtask delegation was delighted to discover that the word “microtask” is now in common use.
Another (slightly less welcome) conference buzzword was “our platform”, an expression which seemed to mean anything from a barely-defined idea to a fully-developed service. We see this as more than just a semantic problem: while many companies have some kind of working platform, in practice most seem to suffer from a lack of specialization. We think that more focus on specific problems would improve the services these platforms can offer, and help diversify the market.
Speech-wise, the technical side of building a crowdsourcing service was notably underrepresented: next year it would be good to see more engineers take the stage – prove we’re not all mouth and no trousers. We at Microtask could do better here too and I’m told (exclusive MT news update folks!) that the medium-term plan is to start covering some “techier” topics on the blog.
A crowd worth hearing
On the platform (the actual platform that is) Ville Miettinen represented Microtask with a fast-paced presentation on Digitalkoot. Ville’s presentation got lots of laughs and much whispering, the latter maybe because he had the guts to call the term crowdsourcing:
“a monster, a non-term replacing traditional words like collaboration or expressions such as doing things together.”
Needless to say, Ville and Jeff Howe (inventor of the term crowdsourcing) had a “frank” post-speech chat (I’m relieved to report both of them came away unharmed).
Harri Holopainen, Microtask’s managing director, was our champion on a panel discussing current industry concerns (at least, those concerns people were willing to air in public). The focus was mainly on microworker rights and covered issues like low wages, unequal treatment, taxation and the lack of unionization. The consensus on the panel was that the unionization of microworkers is slowly starting to happen, mainly via online action and discussion forums (like the one promoted by The Daily Crowdsource).
Lukas “Crowdflower” Biewald delivered a thought-provoking dataset on the effectiveness of using multiple workers per task to improve accuracy. The prize for best-looking presentation definitely goes to Carl Esposti, founder of crowdsourcing.org. The gray-haired guru gave a visually beautiful talk on the different areas of crowdsourcing (crowd funding, cloud labor, open innovation etc) and how to connect each of them to businesses.
Overall, Crowdconvention was quite an eye-opener. There’s much more I could discuss – Jeff Howe’s talk, the crowdsourced newspaper, Nokia’s total lack of crowdsourcing imagination – sadly however, time is rarely a senior designer’s best friend. We would love to hear what other attendees made of Crowdconvention. What, in your opinion, were the stand-out speeches, the hot topics and the glaring omissions? For me unfortunately, it’s time to get back to the desk. With any luck I’ll see you all at Crowdconvention 2012.
PS: a video of all the speeches is available here.