Crowdsourced Data Collection: A 2023 Guide to Benefits and Best Practices

Hi there! As an AI consultant who has worked on numerous machine learning projects, I wanted to provide you with a comprehensive guide on leveraging crowdsourcing for your data needs. Collecting quality training data is one of the most critical determinants of the success of any AI or machine learning initiative. And tapping into crowdsourcing is one of the most efficient ways to assemble the large, diverse datasets required to build accurate models.

In this post, I‘ll provide a detailed overview of crowdsourced data collection, including:

  • The benefits it offers compared to other approaches
  • Key use cases and examples of how it is being applied
  • Challenges to be aware of
  • Best practices to ensure high quality data
  • Criteria for selecting crowdsourcing providers

I‘ll also share plenty of statistics, real world examples, and expert insights so you can make an informed decision on whether to crowdsource your next data project.

Let‘s get started!

What is Crowdsourced Data Collection?

Crowdsourced data collection refers to outsourcing a company‘s data sourcing and annotation needs to a distributed crowd of contributors across the internet. Instead of assembling an internal data team, companies can leverage crowdsourcing marketplaces and platforms to get contributors to collect, label, and validate the specific data points needed for training machine learning algorithms and AI models.

Some examples of popular crowdsourcing models include:

  • Microtasking platforms like Amazon Mechanical Turk where contributors perform small data tasks in exchange for micropayments.
  • Competition platforms like Kaggle where data science competitions are used to crowdsource data analysis and modeling tasks.
  • Survey platforms like SurveyMonkey and Google Surveys which leverage contributor networks to source survey responses.
  • On-demand marketplaces like Upwork that enable posting data project jobs for freelancers to bid on.

According to recent estimates, over 100 million crowd workers are active on crowdsourcing platforms, completing over 50 million tasks daily. The crowdsourced data collection market is projected to grow to $1.47 billion by 2027, as demand for training data increases across industries.

Key Benefits of Crowdsourced Data Collection

Compared to purely in-house data collection, leveraging crowdsourcing offers several major advantages:

1. Access to Larger, More Diverse Training Datasets

Crowdsourcing provides access to effectively unlimited contributors, which facilitates assembling much larger and more diverse datasets. For instance, a language translation tool developed using crowdsourced data could gather text samples in over 100 different languages – far more than what a company could collect internally.

According to CrowdFlower (now Figure Eight), crowdsourced training data tends to be up to 12 times larger compared to internally collected datasets.

2. Cost and Time Savings

Sourcing data through crowdsourcing is typically 40-60% cheaper than using internal data teams, according to Deloitte. It also accelerates data collection, with turnaround times in weeks rather than months. This is because you don‘t need to hire and manage full-time data annotators. It allows you to scale up and down on demand, paying only for the specific data you need.

3. Specialized Skills and Knowledge

Crowdsourcing gives you targeted access to contributors around the world with in-demand skills and knowledge. For specialized domains like healthcare, law, academia or obscure languages, it can be very difficult to find internal resources with the right subject matter expertise. With crowdsourcing, you can locate qualified contributors wherever they may be.

4. Enhanced Data Quality

The large volume and diversity of contributors allows for more robust data validation through techniques like statistical consensus. Experienced crowdsourcing providers also implement training programs and computational quality checks that enhance the accuracy of collected data. According to Figure Eight, the error rate for crowdsourced data can be as low as 1%.

Crowdsourcing Use Cases and Examples

Crowdsourcing is being extensively used across industries to source training data for AI algorithms:

  • Self-driving cars: Companies like Waymo, Cruise and use crowdsourced labeling to obtain bounding boxes and segmentation maps highlighting objects in driving scenarios. This trains computer vision models for object detection and semantic segmentation.
  • Medical imaging: Startups like Dipam and Arterys leverage medical experts on crowdsourcing platforms to annotate MRI scans and x-rays to train computer vision models for clinical diagnosis.
  • E-commerce: Walmart used crowdsourcing to collect images across over 120 product categories, resulting in training data for automated image moderation.
  • Logistics: Amazon has used crowdsourcing for collecting addresses, extracting information from documents, and validating machine translation output.
  • Banking: JPMorgan Chase used crowdsourced teams to transcribe earnings calls and extract entities, relations and market events from financial documents.

Challenges with Crowdsourced Data Collection

While highly beneficial, some unique challenges can arise with crowdsourced data:

1. Inconsistent Contributor Expertise and Skills

It can be difficult to thoroughly validate expertise levels among random, anonymous crowd workers. Screening processes and training may be inadequate, resulting in low quality data.

2. Data Errors and Noise

Unfiltered crowds can introduce inadvertent errors or biases. Malicious actors may also intentionally corrupt data. Rigorous quality assurance is essential.

3. Biases in the Crowd Composition

If the contributor pool is not sufficiently diverse, it can skew datasets and impact model fairness and accuracy.

4. Privacy and Ethics Concerns

Proper consent, fair compensation, contributor rights, and data licensing require careful planning for ethically sourced data.

Best Practices for High Quality, Ethical Crowdsourced Data

Companies can overcome the key crowdsourcing challenges through several best practices:

1. Define Data Requirements in Granular Detail

Provide highly precise specifications on all attributes of the data needed – formats, classifications, annotation schemas – so contributors gather exactly what you need.

2. Invest in Robust Training Materials

Develop detailed guides, videos, sample data, and testing suites to train contributors on expected protocols and quality standards. Some providers may train contributors directly.

3. Build an Intuitive, Streamlined Platform

Ensure a user-friendly interface so contributors can quickly ramp up. Include built-in utilities for validation, formatting, assessment. Automated tools enhance quality and speed.

4. Analyze Statistical Reliability of Contributors

Use metrics like inter-rater reliability to identify high performing contributors. Analyze patterns of responses to detect malicious or poor quality actors.

5. Perform Computational Post-Processing

Use algorithms to validate collected data, identify outliers, and correct common errors through techniques like consensus assessments.

6. Spot Check through Independent Review

Manually re-verify random subsets of the data using independent internal or external reviewers to catch missed errors.

7. Maintain Ongoing Communication

Keep contributors informed via announcements, provide FAQs, support forums and open channels for queries and feedback.

8. Compensate Contributors Fairly

Incentivize quality contributions through attractive pay rates benchmarked to market standards, complexity, and time spent.

9. Ensure Transparent Expectations and Terms

Maintain clear communication regarding purpose of data, handling of IP, privacy protections, rights of withdrawal and other ethical parameters.

10. Work with Reputable Crowdsourcing Providers

Partner with platforms demonstrating expertise across contributor management, robust QA processes, data security, and ethical practices.

Choosing the Right Crowdsourcing Partner

When selecting a crowdsourcing provider, look for the following key criteria:

  • Established brand: Look for reputable platforms with extensive experience managing enterprise-scale projects.
  • Skilled, diverse contributor community: Prioritize partners with global access to domain experts, creative talent and extensive language capabilities.
  • Customizable contributor screening: Seek platforms that can implement tests, qualifications checks and statistical modeling to validate contributors.
  • Training and support: Opt for platforms providing robust training, guidelines and multi-channel support to contributors.
  • State-of-the-art data platform: Choose providers with purpose-built tools for data modeling, validation, analysis and export.
  • Security and compliance: Verify rigorous measures for data encryption, access controls, and compliance certifications.
  • Quality assurance rigor: Look for data science-driven QA processes like consensus analysis, statistical validation and computational checks.
  • Customer support: Seek providers with account management, SLAs and support channels to resolve project issues.
  • Ethical practices: Confirm policies for IP protection, informed consent, fair pay, withdrawal rights, and transparency.

By partnering with a crowdsourcing platform demonstrating expertise across these parameters, you can maximize the quality, reliability and ethics of your crowdsourced data initiatives.

The Future of Crowdsourced Data Collection

Crowdsourcing has cemented itself as a vital sourcing strategy for the high-volume and high-diversity training data needed for enterprise AI systems. With the exponential growth in crowdsourcing providers, platforms, and marketplaces, organizations now have ready access to niche skills from a global on-demand workforce.

As crowdsourcing practices grow more sophisticated, continued innovation in areas like fraud detection, automation, machine learning augmented QA, and blockchain-based systems will help address persisting data quality and ethics concerns. With proper implementation, there is immense potential to scale up crowdsourced data collection across industries in a scalable, ethical and sustainable manner.

I hope this guide has provided you with a comprehensive overview of the crowdsourcing opportunity. Please feel free to reach out if you need any assistance formulating a crowdsourcing data strategy for your AI and ML initiatives. I look forward to helping drive your projects to success!

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