Turn your personal mob into an army

The startup team behind Human.io.

Human.io is the new thing from Joshua Schachter, founder of bookmarking site del.icio.us. This time, however, he's not suggesting you share your travels with a few friends—he's suggesting that you turn them into an army.

"If you want to build a flash mob, but have it actually do something useful, this is your API," Schachter said. "It lets you invite your audience to become part of the action."

The concept—developed by Paul Rademacher, creator of legendary Craigslist/Google Maps mashup Housingmaps, and Nick Nguyen, formerly of Yahoo and Mozilla—is straightforward enough: Human.io is a platform for performing "micro-tasks".

First, you publish a simple, crowdsourceble activity, such as voting on something, going to a particular location, or taking photos—anything that might be accomplished with a smartphone's UI and its sensors. Then you tell your readers, followers or friends about it. They start the app, get cracking, and, finally, the results are sent back to you.

Human.io can be scripted in Python and PHP, languages easy enough for laypeople to create basic tasks, but powerful enough to set up more complex and rewarding interactions. Writes Schachter: "missions and activities to get people involved more directly than just reading stuff on a screen."

To illustrate how the platform works, Human.io developed an app for us aimed at benefiting the Creative Commons, and Wiki Loves Monuments in particular: wikipedia.human.io.

The idea is to help Wikipedia's project to improve public access to photography of the world's architectural and local heritage. If you want to participate, install the free Human.io app (iOS, Android) and select the "Photograph a historic place" task. It'll cough up a list of anything nearby that's in the online encyclopedia's monument hit list. All you have to do is head out, take a shot, and let Human.io do the rest. It'll show up immediately at wikipedia.human.io, released under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

It bridges the gap between a useful task–in this case, contributing to Wikipedia's potential coverage of your neighborhood's history–and folks who might not otherwise be in a position to help out, let alone have fun doing so.

Another possibility that comes to mind—that I might try and create myself if I have time—is a "reporter" task. Twitter and Facebook have become essential to newsgathering, but these platforms weren't made with journalism in mind. They're not so hot at helping editors and newsrooms organize the incoming torrent of info, correctly attribute it to named sources, or separate public panic from personal presence.

My hypothetical Human.io news-gathering app would have the user add short but essential notes to eyewitness reports, snapshots and recordings: text fields for Who, What, and Why, journalism's traditional formula for basic reportage (When and Where would automatically be taken care of by sensors). With the results flowing instantaneously to the web, this could be powerful tool– and what I like about Human.io is that it makes it possible for an amateur coder such as myself to make it happen. (But if you build it, get in touch and I'll be happy to cheerlead instead.)

Unfortunately, there are shortcomings in Human.io as it stands. The app is rough-hewn and, while new activities are highlighted, one must know a shared ID number to add others (Update: the IDs are just for private tasks–all public tasks are shown). While its simplicity is a big plus, better discovery would make it easier to generate interest among casual users—folks who might just want to dip in and do something interesting that helps someone out.

Also, I'd like to see options that make it easier for task creators and users to specific and agree to licensing terms— unless otherwise specified (as in the Wiki Monuments task) work done with Human.io becomes the property of the task creator.

Schachter says that basic in-app social networking features are on the way. It would be neat for users to be able to "see" and interact with one another and share activities, and for publishers to be able to offer rewards that are visible in a new social space created by the app—though I wonder if it would add an unnecessary level of complexity to the experience (and its maintenance).

There's all sorts of things that Boing Boing readers have done—from benefiting charities to participating in serious political action—that could have been easier for us to help organize were something like Human.io as widely-used as, say, Twitter. Apart from the Wiki for Monuments task, do you have any ideas?