Archive for the ‘Article Response’ Category

ReBlog: Clickworker.com Offers Tasks to Finnish Online Jobbers

Friday, December 21st, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

clickworker

Clickworker.com offers tasks to Finnish online jobbers (PR-inside.com)

The clickworker.com platform has been providing micro jobs in the areas of text creation, web research, translations, tagging and data categorisation for the last five years. Worldwide over 300,000 Internet users are registered on the platform. They are ready to handle any number of tasks according to their skills and preferences. An increased demand from Finnish e-commerce businesses for short product descriptions has prompted clickworker.com to offer text creation and editing jobs to Finnish Internet users.

Read more…

It’s nice to see platforms like this succeed, especially when their goals and methods are so similar to Ziptask’s. Cloud labor is worldwide!

Check out this site if you’re interested in other services like Ziptask. Our operations and capabilities seem pretty similar; the main difference is that Clickworker is more focused on creative endeavors, where Ziptask is more focused on processing and refinement. Both systems have their merits, and it’s always cool to see how the “other guys” are doing things.

Have a good weekend, and Happy Holidays!

–Seth

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CrowdFlower Under Fire: Lawsuit Threatens Employment Status

Friday, December 14th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

crowdflowerIt is not a good day to be CrowdFlower. The website, based on crowdsourcing, offers a service akin to Amazon Mechanical Turk: huge amounts of data handled cheaply and quickly by large crowds that are paid per task. But a new lawsuit leveled by an Oregon man who works for the company claims that its employees are drastically underpaid. According to the suit, CrowdFlower pays its workers much less than the federally-mandated minimum wage for employees, with some fees going as low as $2 to 3 an hour.

The sticking point in the suit is the classification of CrowdFlower’s work force. The suit claims that they are employees, like at any other company, and must therefore not only be paid the minimum wage, but also must have income and other taxes withheld. CrowdFlower, however, claims that their employees are independent contractors, and subject to less strict guidelines. The results of the suit will most likely hinge on the classification of their employees into one category or the other.

It’s tricky, though. According to the official IRS website, there is no one deciding factor that determines if an employee is or is not a contractor:

Businesses must weigh [behavioral, financial, and relationship-related] factors when determining whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor. Some factors may indicate that the worker is an employee, while other factors indicate that the worker is an independent contractor. There is no “magic” or set number of factors that “makes” the worker an employee or an independent contractor, and no one factor stands alone in making this determination. Also, factors which are relevant in one situation may not be relevant in another.

The keys are to look at the entire relationship, consider the degree or extent of the right to direct and control, and finally, to document each of the factors used in coming up with the determination.

In a nutshell, this means that the plaintiff’s side of this case will likely launch a large-scale investigation into CrowdFlower’s employment methods and worker duties, as well as peer into how the workers are paid, and by whom. If I can be honest, it does not look great for CrowdFlower. The lawsuit claims that some of their employees aren’t even compensated monetarily, and are instead given online gaming credits or points towards award programs. If it turns out that CrowdFlower’s workers cannot be classified as contractors, that is going to be all but a fatal blow. Further complicating the matter is the fact that CrowdFlower does not directly employ its workers, but instead hires them through channels like MTurk.

Further reading on the IRS site details what will happen if the employees are found to not be contractors. In the most likely scenario, CrowdFlower will have to pay both back taxes to the IRS and full retroactive compensation to the plaintiff, plus damages. Since the plaintiff is also attempting to get his suit into class action status, he may not be the only one who gets paid. However, CrowdFlower can claim that it had a “reasonable basis” for treating its workers as contractors, in which case they may not have to pay the aforementioned compensation.

There is also the possibility that CrowdFlower will be forced to reclassify its employees and give them all the tax- and compensation-related baggage that goes with it. Again, this could be a huge blow to the company since they’ve built their model on the idea that their workers are contractors. Without drastically increasing prices or dramatically cutting costs, they are simply not going to have the money to keep their namesake Crowd around.

It’s times like these that I am very thankful for how Ziptask runs things. We hire contractors as well, but with two major differences when compared to the CrowdFlower model: we are unequivocal about labeling our workers as contractors, and we pay them a fair wage. Crazy, right? But it turns out people like feeling like their time is worth something. There’s a reason that there isn’t a huge line at McDonald’s to be the next fry cook. Some work is menial and less-than-desirable, but it still has to get done. And if CrowdFlower wants that to happen, it’s in their best interest to not get sued for treating their employees poorly.

Simple stuff, really.

Cloud Labor Scuffle: Ziptask, AutoMan, and MTurk’s Flaws

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

AutoMan

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts have recently created AutoMan, a new cloud labor algorithm that intends to outsource not the worker, but the boss. New Scientist’s Douglas Haven reports that AutoMan is a fully automatic system that analyses and delegates tasks to human workers on Amazon Mechanical Turk. Where Ziptask simplifies task outsourcing via our task management team and a “set it and forget it” setup, AutoMan seeks to tackle the process completely automatically. If AutoMan is successful, it could end up wildly improving on the original Turk by automating oversight, the one remaining untouched process.

In a report published by the UMass researchers, the grievances against MTurk are laid out quite succinctly on the very first page. Turk doesn’t scale well to complicated tasks, it’s often difficult to determine the appropriate payment or time scale for a job, and there’s no guarantee that the finished work will be of acceptable quality. Being so similar, both Ziptask and AutoMan have their own unique ways of addressing these flaws.

Scale and Complexity

MTurk is great for simple tasks like identifying the subjects of photos, but when it comes to complicated, iterative, or interrelated tasks, its power often falls short. The problem lies in the fact that clients need to separate complex tasks into bite-sized chunks of work, which are better suited to the platform. Ziptask solves this problem with its team of project managers, who can break down and assign tricky tasks to multiple workers, or pore through their database for a worker who is qualified for all aspects of the task. Unfortunately, it does not appear as though AutoMan will have any innate capability to split up or delegate a task in such a way; perhaps this functionality will be addressed in a later update. We’ve discussed the strength of Ziptask’s scalability before, so I hope the UMass researchers have something good up their sleeves.

Payment and Time

Those who wish to assign work via MTurk not only have to format and post their task, but must also determine how long it should take and how much money they think it’s worth. Since task posters are already short on time by definition, this step becomes an unnecessary speed bump. Ziptask, again with its human team of supervisors, assigns prices to jobs automatically based on the difficulty and type of work. Since the labor is compensated per-minute, they’ll also determine a cutoff price to help you avoid going over budget. By contrast, AutoMan turns the process into trial-and-error based on a series of formulas. Price is calculated based on the duration of the work and federal minimum wage, and task time limits are set to 30 seconds by default. AutoMan will automatically adjust both the task price and time limit (upwards) if it’s not getting the results it requires. Clients can set these parameters to other defaults if the task requires, but the process is otherwise very standardized.

Quality Assurance

Any cloud labor platform, regardless of its makeup or the details of its process, will live and die by work quality. Who wants to pay for substandard results? Quality assurance is an absolute necessity, and MTurk has next to none built in. Ziptask once again turns to its supervision team, who personally make sure that every document is up to standards before presenting it to the client. The client provides the final pass/fail check, and no money changes hands until everyone agrees that the work makes the cut. AutoMan, by comparison, automates the process in the simplest possible way; it has multiple workers complete the task, and waits to see which results are the most common. The workers are paid once the majority has reached a statistically viable agreement, with no payment going to workers who provided incorrect answers.

Will My New Boss Be A Robot?

Rest assured, it’s probably not gonna happen anytime soon. The relative inflexibility of both the AutoMan algorithm and the MTurk interface mean that this combination is going to be very effective, but only for certain kinds of tasks. In a nutshell, this isn’t going to add any muscle to MTurk; it will continue to be bad at intricate or skill-based work, but good at work that’s just above “a monkey could do it”-level. The only difference is that the AutoMan algorithm could highly increase Turk’s effectiveness at completing these types of tasks. For all other office work, especially things that you can’t wait around for five or six workers to agree on, Ziptask is going to get you better results, faster, and most likely for a better price.

Huffington Post: You Can’t Outsource HR

Friday, December 7th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

HR

From Liz Ryan at Huffington Post:

[You] can’t outsource HR. That’s like running a business in Indianapolis and using contractors in India to water the plants on the desks. HR is local. It’s what’s happening on the ground, in the culture and among the troops. You can’t do that sort of work long-distance.

Good HR people are embedded, with at least one ear to the ground all the time. They may process vacation-time requests as part of their jobs, but their real value is in knowing where the good-and-bad-energy currents are flowing in your organization, and using that knowledge (and other skills, like sensitivity and emotional intelligence) to steer around the landmines that come with the territory whenever you work with people.

Luckily, the gulf between “process-type HR” and “people-intensive HR” duties is becoming more and more obvious every day. Much of what we used to view as standard job-description fodder for a typical HR person is now safely in the “process-type HR” arena. You can outsource that stuff, as long as you have a sharp HR person on staff and on premises to run interference between the troops and your outsourced-HR-process vendors.

Ryan goes on to emphasize the importance of delineation between human-based HR work and business-based HR work, the latter of which can (for the most part) be outsourced freely. The human side of things is best left to an attentive, in-house individual who is wise to the company culture and the ebbs and flows of employee opinions.

Ryan also includes a large, but by no means exhaustive, list of situations where an in-house HR professional would be infinitely preferable to an outsourced individual or firm. If an employee is being too sexually forward with his peers, or a sudden medical crisis arises for a worker’s family, or the entire staff fundamentally misunderstands the company’s business plan, an HR professional who is intimately familiar with the company will be a bigger help than a third party any day of the week.

Ziptask doesn’t outsource these people-oriented HR tasks, but the more business-and-administration purposes are easily within the purview of work we can handle. If you have a great HR worker on your staff, hold onto them for dear life! But also ask them if maybe Ziptask can handle some of their more number-crunchy work while they take care of that unfortunate “our receptionist got a DUI and is in prison” situation.

 

Connecticut School District On Track To Save $4 Million Through Outsourcing

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

Money

When I reported a little while ago on how some companies were outsourcing their custodial and sanitation departments, I thought it was a neat concept with some solid reasoning behind it, but I didn’t expect the decision to be an Earth-shattering one.

Well, I underestimated the power of outsourcing. In an article released a few days ago in the New Haven Independent, the Chief Operating Officer of the New Haven school district, Will Clark, extolled the virtues of the method. Last year, his district replaced one third of their union custodians with those provided by the private sector, and now they’re on track to save $4 million per year in cleaning costs.

New Haven struck an excellent balance between keeping union workers and hiring new private-sector workers, with most schools keeping two union workers full-time and adding up to seven union part-timers. Many of the old union workers were promoted during this change, raising their pay and responsibilities over the new hires; this is something that would have been extremely difficult if not impossible under the old union rules. In addition, the reapplication process for union workers meant that the district could scrutinize and ultimately trim off workers that had recurring attendance or disciplinary problems. When the dust settled, the district was left with only their best union workers.

The results speak strongly. The district now enjoys qualitatively cleaner schools, workers with more flexibility, and the ability to do more with fewer people. One particular school, Career High, used to have seven union full-timers on staff. Now they have just two, with the rest of the work being taken care of by seven new outsourced part-time workers. Due to the variance allowed by this system, the school can call in more workers for big projects, like when they tackled several gym floor repairs and saved the company an estimated $50 grand. With the abolition of  dedicated workers for things like the pool and lunchroom, workers can go exactly where they need to go without being tied down by red tape.

And in addition to more staff when it’s needed, the district now also has the ability to stop money bleeding from paying overstaffed schools. The current system in Career High has more total workers, but fewer billed hours; the new workers can do the jobs of their predecessors in two employees worth of reduced hours. If a worker needs to call out for the day, one of the other contractors can step in without the school having to pay them overtime hours. This saving alone has almost amassed $1 million this year. And if the work for the day is done, the contract workers can be sent home instead of the district continuing to pay them to hang around. “We don’t need you sitting there doing nothing” if the building is already clean, Clark affirms, and I agree with him.

New Haven’s smart moves have saved them lots of money, allowed more people to have jobs, resulted in cleaner schools in less time, freed up hands and money for other projects, and added heaps of overall flexibility to their work capacity. If it could happen for them, who else could benefit from this method? You, maybe! Take a leaf from their book and get Ziptask to add some extra muscle to your workforce, and you’ll find your business will reach new levels of capability.

 

Northstar Consulting Group: Local Outsourcing Grows Business, Keeps Jobs in U.S.

Friday, November 30th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

“Outsourcing Services Adds Value to Business Growth in US” Claim Northstar Consulting Group (PRWeb)

PRWeb put out this article a few days ago, and it very succinctly summarizes what makes local outsourcing so effective. The following quotes originally refer solely to the Northstar Group, but in the larger world where many companies offer outsourced services, I find them to be more universal than specific. I’m not one to mess with what is already quality work, so here’s the distilled version of the article’s pertinent points.

>> “Gartner reported ‘outsourcing’ has shown a 2.1 percent increase from 2011.”

>> “Outsourcing operations to other American businesses who are experts in their field allows a brand to get the best possible results while keeping overheads low and ensuring work opportunities remain in the US.”

>> “[…] outsourced services are extremely cost effective – in many cases considerably cheaper than the average business maintaining an internal sales force – and offer a specialized service. Outsourcing a [function] allows many [clients] to concentrate on their core business operations […]”

>> “[Leif Schneider, managing partner at Schneider Bartosch Communications,] states that, ‘You don’t need to be an expert in everything – in fact no one can be, or should claim to be – but you do need to have access to the best experts and you do need to know how to manage them. We effectively outsource any work that is not senior managerial activity.'”

>> “[Hugh Greenhalgh, Businessblogs.com contributor,] adds ‘the mark of any good manager is the ability to effectively delegate work […]. If you want your start-up to operate like the big guys, outsource the small stuff to give yourself the time and brainpower for the larger issues, and your bank statements will confirm the wisdom of your choice.'”

If that last part sounds awfully familiar, it’s only because I’ve said extremely similar things multiple times on this blog. Maybe I’m on to something! The general takeaway here is that for businesses that want to step up their game while keeping costs down and helping the local economy, outsourcing to a company like Ziptask or Northstar is an extremely viable methodology.

 

How Ziptask Manages the Hassles of Onshore Outsourcing

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

An editorial published by Professor Ilan Oshri at the Loughborough School of Business has given us a “state of the industry” view of outsourcing. The findings are promising for those in the field: the IT and business process outsourcing industries combined are reported to have a market to the tune of $435 billion, with projected growth in both sectors over the next two years.

Professor Oshri went on to delineate the perks and hassles of onshore, near-shore, and offshore outsourcing, going into detail on which is easier to manage, recruit for, scale, and train. He states at one point that for companies that must outsource, “in the current economic climate it would be politically correct to pursue an onshore setting.” But he is not without his criticisms of the methodology; he goes on to say that onshore firms often don’t offer the scale available to offshore vendors, and that sticking to onshore outsourcing may limit the talent pool that clients can draw from.

Ziptask, I am happy to say, successfully averts these problems while still providing the advantages of local outsourcing. Our talent pool is both wide and deep, pulling in not only our own workers but applicants from oDesk’s enormous stable as well. In fact, it is with this facet that Ziptask solves all the aforementioned problems in one fell swoop.

We hire workers worldwide, with the only requirement that they have a computer and speak English. So in addition to talent found outside the country, we also have a large group of workers from right here in the US. Why choose between onshore, offshore, or near-shore when you can essentially have all three? And Ziptask’s robust system handles scalability exceedingly well, again due to our large pool of workers at the ready. Ziptask can just as easily handle 20 minutes of work or 20 hours. And again, since our pool is so wide and varied, you never have to worry about not being able to find the right worker for the job. In fact, Ziptask handles the entire hiring process for you!

In these ways and more, we find that Ziptask provides a great option for businesses who are considering outsourcing part of their operations. There really is no other business that straddles the line like Ziptask does, and if Professor Oshri’s predictions are any indication, we’re going to be doing very well for the next couple of years. Hire us, and our success can be your success too.

Automate Your Life To Make Better Decisions

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

A recent blog post by Robert Pozen on the Harvard Business Review made the claim that “boring is productive”. Putting it like that doesn’t sound too exciting, especially considering that the subject matter of the article is our President, one Barack Obama, and his tricks for a productive day. Who better to take time-management cues from than one of the busiest men on Earth?

The gist of the piece is that when Obama isn’t making decisions that change the face of the planet, he’s not making decisions at all. The clothes he wears, the food he eats, his exercise routine, and other comparatively mundane daily details either remain constant day after day, or are planned out in advance. When it’s time to sit down for a meal or get dressed for the day, Obama’s doesn’t even have to think about the details.

The idea is that the human brain has only a certain amount of decision-making power before its effectiveness drops off steeply. The article links to two scientific studies that seem to support this; even when the decisions are mundane or low-risk, the simple act of repeatedly deciding on one thing over another is enough to fatigue the brain into making less-than-optimal choices.

You can mitigate this by taking advantage of the same methods President Obama does, namely identifying parts of your daily routine that you can automate to decrease the number of daily choices you’re forced to make. Ziptask is well-poised to help you with this effort by reducing not only the amount of decisions you have to make, but clearing up extra time to make more important decisions. Instead of dedicating a bunch of idle brain power to your more boring or tedious work assignments, Ziptask can automatically complete them while you are free to focus your attention on things more worthy.

If you’re finding your decision-making skills to be less sharp lately, or you’re just feeling overwhelmed with simple tasks, having Ziptask automate parts of your workday could end up being a huge boon. With your extra time, you could find new things to automate and start a positive feedback loop that ends with you having tons more free time and a much happier brain.

Outsourcing Helps Strengthen Your Start-up

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

If you’re just launching a new business, you might think that outsourcing some of the work would be the last thing on your mind. But according to this article by Hugo Greenhalgh on Techcircle.in, outsourcing certain aspects of your work can be the difference between a lean, well-oiled machine of a company and you working 80-hour weeks.

The article describes some companies that found great success when they allowed certain practices to be taken care of outside the office. In a nutshell, here are the reasons why they found these methods so helpful.

Advantage #1: Rapid Growth Minus Overhead

Outsourcing allows your start-up to have all the qualities of a large office with many departments, but at a fraction of the cost. Especially when your business is new, the costs of hiring and training staff can be off-putting  But often, a third-party firm or freelancer is available for pennies on the dollar compared to adding a whole new department to your burgeoning business. Neil Asher of The Advanced Child Academy built his entire business model around Elance, and ended up cutting costs by about 80%. Ziptask could offer comparable results to many new businesses.

Advantage #2: The World of Workers at Your Fingertips

Even if a new business seeks to hire on a large scale, they may run into stumbling blocks if there are no available workers in the area with the proper qualifications. Companies that tap into tools like Ziptask, Elance, and oDesk can find talented workers from anywhere on the planet, eager and ready to go. And keeping these workers in their home towns instead of forcing them to relocate is a whole other set of advantages: office costs are lowered, globalization improves, and everyone’s happy.

Advantage #3: The Power Shift

While it might seem reasonable to think that outsourcing so many departments would lead to an overall loss of control, the individuals who report from the front lines will tell you otherwise. Lief Schneider, managing partner at Schneider Bartosch Communications, was asked about providing good service while outsourcing. He says, “You don’t need to be an expert in everything – in fact no one can be, or should claim to be – but you do need to have access to the best experts and you do need to know how to manage them. We effectively outsource any work that is not senior managerial activity.” The mark of any good manager is the ability to effectively delegate work, whether it’s to the person in the cubicle next door or to a firm halfway around the world.

These people have found success by relinquishing the less hand-on portions of their business to workers outside their offices. Ziptask hopes to help business accomplish these same goals, with the added advantage that with their system, you don’t need to waste time tracking down the perfect worker. If you want your start-up to operate like the big guys, outsource the small stuff to give yourself the time and brainpower for the larger issues, and your bank statements will confirm the wisdom of your choice.

 

Outsourcing the Crap Work

Friday, October 26th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

There’s a new trend that’s begun to rear its head in outsourcing. Hiring someone designated to catch crap is a widely practiced business strategy, but now it’s being taken literally; towns and institutions have begun to outsource their entire sanitation departments to outside firms and private service providers.

In one story, the North Delhi Municipal Corporation in New Delhi plans to outsource the task of providing toilets and proper hygiene in the corporation’s primary schools. The decision was passed due to a combination of a staff shortage and a Supreme Court directive that all students had to be provided with clean facilities and drinking water in accordance with their rights to free and compulsory education.

In another story, the city council of Massillon, Ohio voted unanimously to shut down their local Solid Waste Department in favor of outsourcing garbage collection to a company in the private sector. In addition to reducing costs for the city, residents will now have access to curbside recycling, a perk they could not previously enjoy under the city’s sanitation department, and the city will make some more money back by selling their garbage trucks to the new workers.

In both these cases, we see attitudes that are very Ziptask-friendly. Although we’re not about to drive out to your city to scrub your toilets and collect your garbage, the sentiment and ideology are very resonant. These businesses and services find themselves bogged down in the details of making everything run smoothly. In both cases, sanitation is just a cog in the giant machine that is the North Delhi Municipal corporation or the city of Massillon, and they find that outsourcing the task frees up people for more crucial work in addition to increasing the quality of the outsourced task itself.

In the Ziptask world, this equates to similar cleanup work. Ziptask will do the final formatting on a blog post after in-house people actually write the thing. Ziptask can balance the figures after you make a big deal with a new client. And Ziptask can take the winning pitch that you spent all last week working on and turn it into a script, create a PowerPoint slideshow, and put the whole thing in a nice package ready to be presented. After your people do the hard work, Ziptask does the cleanup, the polishing, and just generally keeps your hands off the tasks you’d rather stay away from.

Take a hint from these institutions, and leave the smelly stuff to the pros.

 

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