Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Online human resource management

There is a saying that human can only organize and manage human resource up to a certain limit.  The limit is about one hundred thousand owing to the enormous effort required to handle such amount of data.  For some very large projects in history, such as building the Pyramid, the Hoover Dam, putting a man on the Moon and even a war, the human resource involved might not exceed 100000.  But we have all kinds of wonderful achievements from human collaboration at this scale.

The scenario changed now that we have the Internet which means the ability to manage large human resource of hundreds of millions of online Internet users.  Just think what we could achieve with such manpower potential.  You may think that the Internet is in chaos and it will be impossible to make millions of users do one thing in common for free.  But here come some clever thinking and some projects have been launched to do just that.  I saw this interesting TED presentation below which introduced how these are done.  Please take a look.  This is inspirational for the human resource managers, resource and system managers and the IT managers.

Two particular projects are mentioned.  One is the digitization of old books.  We all know the limitation of optical character recognition.  This is particular difficult for old books with strange fonts.  Not surprisingly, what the computer cannot do human brains can.  We can read an old book and recognize what the strange characters are.  Digitization by a human with actual typing work is expensive and time consuming.  To engage the human brains of millions of Internet users, a project makes use of the security control of some websites where you are asked to input some strange characters shown on the screen upon logging in.  Such characters are not recognizable by computer.  The trick is to use two such words.  While the first is the security code, the second is an image of a word from an old book which the project needs you, secretly, to recognize.  Millions of people type the security code everyday and an old book of many characters is digitized in parallel this way.  Now we know this, we may ask the bank to give us a discount every time we log in.

Another interesting project is the translation of websites into different languages.  Professional translators are expensive and computer translation is rubbish.  The project asks Internet users to translate one sentence of a webpage at a time.  But how can you make sure the translation is correct and make human do it for free?  First, the sentence is translated many times and the computer chooses the best translation which most users did.  Second, it uses the project as an education medium where people can learn another language by participating.  Instead of paying for translation tuition, Internet users pay with their time doing simple translation and have it corrected by many other users doing the same translation.

There is already an app in Facebook called Translations.  You can translate some selected sentences from English to Chinese, or vote on the best among several translated versions.  Facebook will then use it in the Chinese version of the website.  I think Facebook is doing this on several different languages.  It will then have muilti-lingual websites for free.

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