Wired magazine last week took a critical look at Amazon’s highly publicized “Mechanical Turk” project that enlisted 50,000 volunteers in what ultimately proved a futile attempt to locate the missing plane of adventurer Steve Fossett. Some participants now regret the time they spent eyeballing digital images, while others defend the effort as part of a technological learning curve.
However, at the very end of the piece, after one participant in the project suggests that there was no harm in trying as long as the amateurs didn’t get in the way of the professional searchers, we get this most-telling assessment from Civil Air Patrol Major Cynthia Ryan, who says she was inundated with worthless leads generated by the amateur searchers:
“The crowdsourcing thing added a level of complexity that we didn’t need, because 99.9999 percent of the people who were doing it didn’t have the faintest idea what they’re looking for,” Ryan says. “In the early days, it sounded like a good idea,” Ryan continues. “In hindsight, I wish it hadn’t been there, because it didn’t produce a darn thing that was productive except for being a giant black hole for energy, time and resources. There may come a day when this technology is capable of doing what it says it can deliver, but boy, that’s not now.”
Crowdsourcing can be invaluable under the right circumstances. But crowds aren’t always the founts of wisdom that they’re cracked up to be … and they’ve always had the potential to be a bit unruly, even when well intentioned.
Do Not Call crackdown
The Federal Trade Commission last week announced that it is cracking a few heads in an effort to get it through the thick skulls of telemarketers that “do not call” means you’re not supposed to call.
The news is most welcome in my household, which continues to be besieged by these vermin despite being on the federal government’s do-not-call list.
From the FTC press release: “The actions … are against companies ranging from adjustable bed seller Craftmatic Industries, Inc., to alarm-monitoring provider ADT Security Services and lender Ameriquest Mortgage Company, and bring to 34 the number of cases filed by the FTC to enforce the DNC Rule, which was implemented in 2003. To date, more consumers have put more than 145 million numbers on the Registry, indicating they do not want to receive calls from telemarketers at home.”
My family moved about a year-and-a-half ago, leaving behind an unlisted telephone number that attracted telemarketing calls so rarely that I was fond of saying that the couple bucks a month it costs to be unlisted is the best bargain around.
At the new place, we’re listed, for a variety of reasons, none having anything to do with a desire to chat with telemarketers at dinnertime. I did dawdle a bit getting the new number on the DNC registry, but it’s been there for about a year and we still get telemarketers calling several times a week.
While there has been the occasional credit card offer and miscellaneous others, one industry has stood out as being by far the most egregious offender. So here’s my advice to FTC investigators as they continue their crackdown: Grab a Yellow Pages directory. Turn to where it lists mortgage lenders. Impose fines upon each and every company you find there. Just start with the A’s – I see you did that already with Ameriquest – and run right on through the Z’s.