Good Business Ideas

Crowdworkers, Microsourcing and Parallel Employment

Here's a free business idea you can have. It involves setting up a new form of employment that cuts big tasks up into small tasks and delegates them out to thousands of workers.

There are some good business ideas you have that you can never get to.

For me, it's better to give them away than to have them never come to fruition.

One tech business idea I have is a project called Piranha.

Ages ago, I worked at a company called Scientific Computing that had developed a parallel processing language called Linda.

The idea with parallel processing is that you can take a complex task and break it up into many smaller tasks.

In the case of Linda, you could write a parallel processing program to parcel out programming tasks to many workstations. The net effect was that five or six workstations that cost $5,000 each could outperform a supercomputer that cost over $1,000,000.

At one point, they had a new product called Piranha. It was powered by parallel processing, and the Piranha analogy is that if you drop a piece of meat into a tank full of Piranhas, each Piranha takes a small bit but the collective effort is such that the meat rapidly disappears.

I often mind myself working on complex tasks that require human labor that are tedious and redundant. Right now, I've got a spreadsheet with several thousand rows and each row contains a text cell that needs some editing.

For me to go through each of these text cells in serial fashion would take forever. Let's say there are 5,000 cells that need editing and each cell takes 1 minute to edit.

That's 5,000 minutes of work to be done, and that works out to more than 83 hours. In other words, if I did it, it would take me two weeks (based on 40 hours per week). Even if I hired somebody to do it, it would take them two weeks.

Wouldn't it be nice if I could quickly and easily upload the 5,000 text items that need editing to a website that doled them out to, say, 2,500 writers who were working out of their homes.

They'd be sitting at their homes and the system would pop up a message: "Task Available - Edit 20 words of text. Time: 1 minute. Earn $0.33. 2 units. Deadline: 3PM Today."

This micropayment of $0.33 sounds like a paltry sum. But the idea is that there would be enough volume of available work from everyone in the system that an at-home worker could keep busy all day long, processing micro-task after micro-task.

Getting 33 cents for a one-minute task works out to $19.80 per hour. That's $39,600 in pre-tax income per year if you work 2,000 hours a year (no taking any time out to talk around a watercooler!) . Maybe the numbers need to shift a bit, but you get the idea.

That's the perspective of the Piranha. How about me, the guy who wants those cells to be edited?

For 5,000 x $0.33 - or $1,650 - I get the job done. Instead of it taking two weeks of elapsed time, the job is done within a couple of hours of my posting the project. In fact, in the fastest scenario, the project outlined above could be completed in two minutes! That's because 2,500 people worked on the task in parallel, rather than one person working on the task in serial fashion.

It's a bit like the way the Amish build a barn. One family could never build a barn on their own in a timely fashion. So, instead the whole community gets together and works hard for one or two days. With the power of numbers backing the effort, the barn gets built within 48 hours.

There are of course sites out there like, where you can outsource tasks and get bids from people who will do your task. But there is no facility to dole out a complex task into many small sub-tasks that can be processed in parallel by many workers simultaneously.

The business owner for this business concept would make money by charging a small fee for every project. They might also be able to make money on the float, by building a bank account full of funds that are transitioning from task owner to task performer.

Some benefits of this business are that there's a natural monopoly bu

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  • Taryn East posted on 7/26/2010
    Taryn East
    Just to let you know (in case you didn't), this is a fairly accurate description of a service that was created by Amazon. It's the Amazon Mechanical Turk service.
  • Ken Gaebler posted on 7/26/2010
    Ken Gaebler
    Taryn, thanks for educating me. It's hard to keep track of everything out there, and I have to confess I had never heard of Amazon's Mechanical Truk offering. It's pretty cool. I'll probably give it a try soon.

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