Dubai was reported to be in financial trouble recently; Iceland is practically in hock, and Greece is waiting in line. In all the countries around the world that have fallen to the financial meltdown, getting a regular job at a factory or at a newspaper office, or selling investments, is the dream that is best abandoned at this point. But people in poor countries still can get enough to get by on, if they have a computer connection at home, and don’t mind doing a little online grunt work. It goes by a more printable name, called Crowdsourcing. This is where you take company tasks that you would normally delegate to some tread- upon factotum at your office, and spread the cheer among a hundred unseen factotum across the world. And you would spend pennies on them for an hour of their time. ‘s Mechanical Turk and Live Work websites have been picking up freelance efforts in this way from all around the world for years now. But in the years it’s been around, it’s only lived on the fringes of the outsourcing business. For the last three years, the Californian start up CrowdFlower has really got into this business, to try to make it a regular part of the average major corporation’s outsourcing plan. CrowdFlower allows businesses to use Mechanical Turk and Live Work and allows them to verify the credentials of the online workers they list too;, and it will keep an eye on quality control in addition, in a way that ordinary freelance classifieds like Amazon’s ventures could never do.

This is quite a fascinating way in which to tap human resources. And it is reminiscent of the way cloud computing works too – with the cloud, you are supposed to not actually have any computing resources yourself; nor are you supposed to have resources earmarked for you at a remote location. You’re just supposed to trust that in all the pooled resources, somewhere, will be something for you at the right time. And it still always turns out to work exactly as if you had your own dedicated arrangements. Crowd Flower allows you to switch on or off an entire global army of qualified labor, and leave it to the managing companies to pick up the loose ends. You could hire your own full-time gopher to do your work, and micromanage and pay that person all the time, or you could farm the work out to a dozen people for a fraction of the pay. You get your results in a fraction of the time too. It isn’t just the small Internet businesses trying to make a quick buck that step into crowd sourcing either. Corporations like Microsoft and Oracle have discovered this as a way of simplifying their little jobs too.

At the opposite end of the crowd sourcing spectrum is the way companies try to harness creativity in the crowd. The French company Eyeka does marketing, or consumer engagement, as it is called, in this way. Companies and brands contact Eyeka to have innovative viral advertising campaigns dreamt up for them. Eyeka’s thousands of members pick up assignments they like and create videos or pictures for the project. If they get picked, they get the job. If it happens to be any good, some young kid out there who’s been putting out videos on his personal YouTube clone for free, suddenly gets a couple of hundred thousand dollars for his trouble. From pennies an hour to hundreds of thousands of dollars, crowdsourcing seems to be finding its niche.