ad Silicon Tails: What is reCAPTCHA?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

What is reCAPTCHA?

Bryce Glass, Interaction Designer at Yahoo!, pointed me to this brilliant way of extracting value from the seamingly "meaningless" and unproductive work done by millions of people everyday. About 60 Million Capthas are solved by humans everyday. Each transaction takes about 10 seconds, so these little puzzles consume more than 150,000 hours of work each day. What if we could make positive use of this human effort? reCAPTCHA does exactly that by channeling the effort spent solving CAPTCHAs online into "reading" books. It harnesses the power of the 60 million daily CAPTCHA transactions to digitize old books that confound OCR conversion.

I love this thinking. In general there is so much work done online and so much value created - in meaningful intellectual and social activity obviously but also in "meaningless" activities such as solving CAPTCHAs. A lot of this value is not harnessed beyond the individuals or small groups who create it, and we are still in the very early stages of understanding how business value and broader social value can be extracted from different types of online activities.