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Crowdsourcing is the new black, and there are a plethora of resources available on the web for a variety of applications. Millions of volunteers have performed tasks such as cataloging Martian landforms and translating text into machine-readable form. If you’ve ever been frustrated by Captcha forms – chances are you’ve automatically contributed to book translation via Captcha.
Far from being a frowned on practise, even large, established bloggers on major publications are using crowdsourcing to build up detailed third party resources and information around a topic, and it’s an often overlooked option for site owners struggling to create fresh content when trying to build up and improve their site. The following details some of the sites you can use, based on both my own experience, and from seeing the collective power of crowds in action around the web.
Haro offers a platform for journalists and bloggers to reach over 100,000 sources on any information topic you want. A typical request may range from “Divorced or Separated Couples in New York Who Still Live Together ” – to something more tech orientated such as “What simple program would make your life easier?”. One of the first links I received to this blog came off the back of a HARO request, where blog owner Mike Michalowitz crowdsourced content from other marketeers around the web to create the epic list of 115 marketing strategies for small businesses. Smart for a couple of reasons. Firstly, TPE scored a number of new subscribers – the content providers. Secondly, those that were used, were also used to help promote the content (crowdsourcing the content promotion as well). Thirdly, note the amount of links this post scored at the bottom of the page.
All down to clever use of the Haro mailing list.
Started by ex-Facebook team – Adam D’Angelo and Charlie Cheever, Quora was created on the premise that people answer questions better than search engines do. It’s a useful tool for the web generally, and with a much more professional audience has managed to position itself as a resource in its own right. Recently, I’ve found an increasing move towards using the platform for crowdsourcing content, some combining the reach of HARO with the flexibility of the Quora platform. Case in point a recent crowdsourced post from Roman Mittermayr when preparing a guest post for Techcrunch, initial contact was through HARO, and this was then followed up with agregation of the responses via Quora, where both links and responses could be added to the original question.
Facebook fan page
Facebook is an obvious place to source content for further improving your website, particularly if you already have an established following on your fan page. Due to its closed nature, content that you receive from your following is often not available to search engine bots, making it a prime candidate for repurposing into blog posts. So what do you need to remember?
1) Permission – Post an obvious disclaimer on your page, letting your audience know that the comments received will be used as part of your content.
2) Ask individuals if you can use their particular part of the discussion as content for your site.
3) Link back to your contributors, and give them back the love that they have offered you.
4) Follow up and thank contributors for participating, and ask them to share the content inside their networks.
Asking questions as part of your social media routine also encourages participation much more than simply posting links to content all the time. Encouraging debate from the community will result in a much higher quality of content overall.
LinkedIn have a fantastic platform for Questions and Answers, which is driven forward by the desire for the community to receive professional recognition. The more correct answers you receive, the more visible you become as a professional, so for certain topic areas, its a great way to receive feedback and gain fresh content.
The sort of questions that people ask can often generate enough of a response from you to warrant a complete repost of the answer on your site, and get the synapses firing again. With the social features of LinkedIn such as Groups, Streams and social news, its a great platform to get your question noticed, and generate high quality crowdsourced content from.
See the below video from Jesse Luna – for a step by step guide on how to use LinkedIn for crowdsourcing content as part of your content strategy.
Video search is an area that search engines haven’t yet mastered. To receive more visibility, and reach – it makes absolute sense to have your videos transcribed, which gives the search engine robots something more substantial to chew on. If you consider how many videos are out there on the web, and then consider how many deaf people currently unable to enjoy the educational benefits – you can absolutely generate value by transcribing video to text.
Michael Gray aka Graywolf had a fun post recently on Matt Cutts waking his wife up in bed. Again, we can see that users appreciate textual content over visual in certain situations, and it follows that links could be won by building a resource on top of this premise. Using MTurk or a dedicated transcription service such as SpeakerText would be one way to achieve that.
Amazon’s Mechanical Turk allows you to automated and outsource tasks to the crowd, with pieces of your ‘HITS’ – Human intelligent tasks being assigned to the collection of workers that Amazon signs up. Can you crowdsource content with Amazon MTurk? That’s the question Carnegie Mellon researchers asked when starting the social experiement earlier this year.
Each person in the experiments (documented at “My Boss is a Robot” and this blog post) completed just a sliver of the work of preparing an article, such as preparing an outline, gathering facts or assembling facts into simple prose. The “authors” never even spoke with each other. But the research team led by Aniket Kittur, assistant professor in CMU’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII), found that the crowdsourced articles compared favorably with articles written by a single author and with Simple English Wikipedia entries.
A number of startups built ontop of Amazon’s MTurk, make it even easier to utilise for your own applications.
Houdini App – Integrate with Houdini’s API, specify any details for the task, fund your account and go – Houdini aims to take the complexity out of coding for MTurk.
Crowdflower – uses both MTurk and Samasource to outsource your task via a single resource.
Scalable Workforce – uses Mechanical Turk, but offers an a more streamlining workflow and processes using a simple point and click interface – no technical background required.
Your website could potentially be the biggest and most successful platform for crowdsourcing of content from your visitors. Take a look at any e-commerce website that is encouraging reviews (Amazon) and combining that with structured microformats, and you’ll instantly get the benefits. Take a look at this case study where a business asked its visitors to add further value to its website by means of polls, comments and a feedback loop that generated content.
The idea of a social FAQ is clever as it not only delivers the information that people need to make informed purchasing decisions, but it also generates fresh content from the crowd. In the same vein, its definitely worth digging out a question query in Google Analytics to further improve this crowdsourced content by seeing what people are searching for and evolving your site from that.
Overall, with some creative thinking, and the the wide availability of the above tools, crowdsourcing content is now a real opportunity to improve your site for website owners large and small.