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Crowdsourcing: 5 ways to farm out chores

Outsourcing work to the masses
Outsourcing work to the masses

Want to save money and time by outsourcing your life?

You're in luck. Crowdsourcing websites such as Fiverr, Zaarly and more are rapidly popping up, where you can farm out nearly every task imaginable to a legion of helping hands for as little as $5 per task. "Crowdsourcing" is an evolving term, and it now encompasses outsourcing tasks to an employee or to the public at large.

Those involved in crowdsourcing might deliver your groceries, do your laundry or answer tough homework questions.

The driving force is a growing number of freelancers. About 42 million people, or 31 percent of the workforce, are independent workers in the U.S., according to a 2006 Government Accountability Office report. And that number may have grown since the recession in 2008. So there are a lot of so-called microworkers eager to perform one-off tasks that are very short-term, piecemeal gigs. To connect, you usually just post a task and what you're willing to pay.

Crowdsourcing is still evolving, but it's still primarily for urban folks, often in the digital realm. "Quality can also vary," says Martin Schneider, a research manager at 451 Research in New York. "So let the buyer beware. If it's legal, it can be sold."

There are few drawbacks, but crowdsourcing can be helpful for finding someone to complete a one-off task. You'll need to spend a lot of time and effort to hire the right workers. But the upside is enticing: more free time for work or play.

Here's a rundown on the digital workforce that awaits you.

Hiring low- or no-cost microworkers
Hiring low- or no-cost microworkers

When the Canada-based website GroceryAlerts.ca needed to design an e-book cover, the company turned to Fiverr.com.

"We found someone with a good rating," says Lina Zussino, co-founder of GroceryAlerts.ca. So Zussino plunked down $5, and 24 hours later, she had the book cover in her hands. "Everyone has their skills, and they can do something quickly," she says.

As many as 600,000 tasks are offered on the Fiverr site, and the fees are $5. (Sellers may advance based on reputation and therefore charge more.) You can hire someone to sing "Happy Birthday" in Welsh or draw a cartoon of any animal -- all for $5. Payments are made via PayPal or credit card.

Get good results from microworker sites by writing detailed instructions, Zussino says.

Tap local marketplaces
Tap local marketplaces

Need a short-term hookup for goods and services locally?

Peer-to-peer marketplaces such as Zaarly or TaskRabbit connect you with a web of local microworkers. Post a task, and microworkers bid for it. At TaskRabbit, you can farm out dog walking, housecleaning and other tasks in nine metropolitan areas.

Zaarly launched its first office in San Francisco but has workers performing tasks all around the U.S. It lists more than 50,000 small "businesses," including fire dancers and clowns, on its network. These businesses, which are rated by buyers, are alerted when you want something from them.

"We put the buyer in control," says Eric Koester, co-founder of Zaarly. "Buyers state their task and their price range."

Suppliers respond with written offers. "Our primary users are busy professionals and Gen Xers looking for help," he says.

Crowdsourcing mobile workers
Crowdsourcing mobile workers

Mobile gigs are another way to crowdsource a chore.

Gigwalk.com offers a downloadable app that lets you or your business tap into a mobile workforce of more than 200,000 people in the U.S. via their cellphones to complete such tasks as delivering packages, installing computer networks or staffing events. Simply post a job and then select an applicant.

"Tasks can range from microtasks to more complicated things like math," says Carl Esposti, CEO of the industry website Crowdsourcing.org.

Other businesses where mobile workers are being utilized include local delivery services. The website Postmates.com has a mobile app that allows you to use professional couriers to pick up and deliver packages by car or scooter. The payoff: less commuting time for you.

Use microworkers for home businesses
Use microworkers for home businesses

Want to save time hiring microworkers? Then lean on enterprise outsourcers with their own workforces for hire. Crowdflower and Ziptask are two options.

These are miniworkforces where the employees are used by businesses to perform more complex tasks, not the simple chores farmed out on sites such as Fiverr. The workforce is already assembled. You just pay a set fee, unlike Fiverr, where the fees may vary. Also, quality is ensured.

For example, Ziptask has built a global network of freelancers and acts as a middleman, so you don't have to sort through bids or worry about choosing the workers with the best skills, Esposti says. Rates are preset, starting at 39 cents per minute. Ziptask workers are assigned to the task at hand, and later, Ziptask checks the work before it goes back to the client to guarantee quality.

Tasks range from cartoon animation to website design. Ziptask microworkers will even proofread a paper or write an essay.

Crowdflower also offers a preselected workforce that can do professional highly complex microtasks, such as verifying data or performing surveys.

Students can also find tutors
Students can also find tutors

Want help with your homework?

Then try tutoring websites such as Student of Fortune and Ace Your College Classes, says Esposti. These sites will tutor you in almost any subject. Students post their questions and what they're willing to pay, usually $3 to $60. Topics cover everything from anthropology to religious studies.

You can also hire university students in New York and New Jersey at the website Agent Anything to run your errands, such as going to the dry cleaners or picking up a gift. A student with a valid university email address will respond. One recent posting: a hard drive pickup at an Apple store in Manhattan for a $25 fee. "The service is aimed at busy, hardworking people," Esposti says.

 

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