A Finnish team made crowdsourcing a literal public affair by setting up large touchscreens in busy areas and watching passersby as they performed basic research tasks with them. The results were on par with those of paid online volunteers.
Researchers from Finland’s University of Oulu set up four large LCD touchscreens in busy areas around town, each of them displaying a “touch me” button. Passersby who followed the instruction were then asked to participate in the type of data task increasingly outsourced to online volunteers: identify infected blood cells to help train detection software. Cameras watched as the people interacted with the screens. The results received were about as accurate as those from paid workers from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service.
What’s the Big Idea?
Enlisting the help of online strangers for massive yet mundane research tasks has a bad side, say the researchers. Some provide fraudulent information, for example. Team member Vassilis Kostakos says they were curious to see what would happen if such tasks were put on public display, so to speak: “[P]eople walk up to [them] not knowing exactly what they want to do and usually to kill time. So we tried to find a way to tap into that.” Lone users tended to use the screens the most, and they helped draw other interested passersby. The team plans to present their research at the UbiComp conference in September.