One of the most interesting developments of the moment is I think Crowd-sourcing. In Crowd-sourcing you outsource work to un undefined number of people in an open call. Amazon for example has created a function called “Amazon Mechanical Turk“. The idea here is that tasks that humans can do easily (is this a picture of a woman or man?) but that are extremely hard for computers are outsourced to the public (and you get paid doing it). Interesting variants are for example the google image labeler where, in the form of a game, people have to guess the keywords for a picture. When both players fill in the same keyword you get points.
This has of course very little to do with the intelligence of crowds but capitalizes on the mass of people willing spend some of their time. For either some money, for fun or for eternal fame by reaching the high score.
Question is if this model is feasible in the long run. People work on Wikipedia and open source software since these are environments where everybody works for free. In the case that crowd-sourcing is used by companies than money will play a role. Qustion is whether the “gift economy” will hold in that case. And how much spare time is still available? People’s attention is the most important scarcity so in the end that usually means one has to pay for it (Google clearly saw this with their advertising model).
Recently there was an interesting discussion about this issue of scarcity and pay between Nicholas Carr (www.roughtype.com) and Yochai Benkler (the wealth of networks). Carr’s statement you can find here and the answer of Benkler your can find here. I will certainly get back to this argument.