Why didn't we think of this? Project management startup Smartsheet released a new core feature this week - integration of Amazon's outsourcing service Mechanical Turk. The Smartsheet interface will now let you set up Turk research jobs that thousands of anonymous workers around the world will split up and perform quickly for a very low price.

In the example the company provides on its product page, the user publishes a series of small work orders for research on the names and profiles of top CEOs around the country. That kind of drudgery would take hours to perform, but with Mechanical Turk it can be done on the cheap, quickly.

The Smartsheet interface for Mechanical Turk looks good to us, though we must admit that we're not regular users of the service. This sounds like a great idea, though, and we'll be excited to see if it works well for people. Far too much of the work on Mechanical Turk is for publishing spam - so putting that energy to legitimate business uses is a great idea. There's a whole lot of untapped potential there. The possible applications of bulk human labor in information work are many and are just starting to be explored.

How should a person feel about the Turks though? We admit that we were a little concerned at first; the last thing we want is to use some creepy neo-colonial crap like ODesk.com, which sends customers hourly webcam photos and screenshots of their contracted overseas labor in action, usually with their eyes flared with surprise at the intrusion.

Mechanical Turk seems different though. There appears to be a real art to using it well, and that is one thing that concerns us about the viability of Smartsheet's product.

We get our Mechanical Turk advice from Andy Baio's Waxy.org. Baio recently paid Turkers 50 cents each to upload a picture of themselves with a paper sign explaining "why you Turk." The responses were incredibly humanizing and more than a little amusing.


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Would you want a project management app that let you leverage those peoples' time at a low price? That sounds like a pretty intriguing idea to us.