Spare5 Raises $10M Series A Round For Its Mobile Mechanical Turk Service

Spare5Spare5_4 lets businesses outsource menial tasks like tagging and describing images, cleaning up data and classifying content to smartphone users who want to earn a few cents while standing at the bus station. It’s basically a mobile-centric version of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and it now has another $10 million in the bank thanks to a Series A funding round led by Foundry GroupMadrona Venture Group and New Enterprise Associates (NEA).

The company says it will use its new funding to grow its “engineering, design, marketing, community management and customer relationship capabilities.”

Spare5 says that Americans spend hours on their phones every day, so they should have some time to “solve tough data problems that are impossible for computers to crack on their own.”

“There will always be data challenges that businesses can’t solve with computing power alone,” said Spare5 CEO and co-founder Matt Bencke. “We’re using technology to scale the unique capabilities of the human mind. For our customers, it’s a fast and cost-effective way to achieve results that would otherwise be impossible. Whether you’re selling online, publishing rich content, or training a machine learning engine, you need to know what people think. We deliver that knowledge with game-changing quality and value.”

The company wouldn’t tell me how much people are making on its service (but it’s probably significantly less than the $8,354 a month many of our commenters’ family members apparently get from Google every month even though they only work a few hours a day).

Spare5_1Spare5 is not a job, nor does it aspire for it to become one,” a company spokesperson told us. “How much people make varies widely depending on the complexity of their tasks, quality and productivity.  We prefer not to think of it in terms of an hourly wage, but people in the community have made several hundred dollars. It’s probably helpful to think of Spare5 as more of a marketplace and snack-sized task platform, than a job or even job supplement.”

On Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, about 50 percent of workers are in the U.S. and 40 percent are in India. Spare5 tells me that about 90 percent of its users are in the U.S., with a pretty even male/female ration. Most users are under 30.

Spare5 tells me that it asks new users to fill out an on-boarding survey and to connect through Facebook in order to assure quality control. Tasks are then assigned based on the users’ skills and hobbies.

“We use our proprietary quality algorithms (which include quite a few best practices that have been published by academics) to determine the best answers, aggregate them, and provide them to our business customers,” the company said when I asked how Spare5 handles quality control.

Whether Spare5 can convince enough users to spend their time tagging photos instead of playing Angry Birds remains to be seen. Unless it pays users enough, chances are most will just give it a try and then soon get back to playing Fist of Fury.