Monday, November 16, 2009

The Answer Factory: Just what education is missing.

In an article in Wired, Daniel Roth describes a company's efforts to automate content creation to address the questions/issues and searches of the day. Here is the formula:
"Demand Media has created a virtual factory that pumps out 4,000 videoclips and articles a day. It starts with an algorithm.
The algorithm is fed inputs from three sources: Search terms (popular terms from more than 100 sources comprising 2 billion searches a day), The ad market (a snapshot of which keywords are sought after and how much they are fetching), and The competition (what’s online already and where a term ranks in search results)"
That formula detects what people are looking for and then freelance authors and filmmakers get the chance to produce the results. Roth writes,
"Nearly every freelancer scrambles to load their assignment queue with titles they can produce quickly and with the least amount of effort — because pay for individual stories is so lousy, only a high-speed, high-volume approach will work. The average writer earns $15 per article for pieces that top out at a few hundred words, and the average filmmaker about $20 per clip, paid weekly via PayPal. Demand also offers revenue sharing on some articles, though it can take months to reach even $15 in such payments. Other freelancers sign up for the chance to copyedit ($2.50 an article), fact-check ($1 an article), approve the quality of a film (25 to 50 cents a video), transcribe ($1 to $2 per video), or offer up their expertise to be quoted or filmed (free)."
Now if you just pause and think about what it would cost to pay all this talent, you know that all kinds of institutions that produce content from newspapers, educators, etc. could not begin to compete with these low costs of employees.

There is much here to think about but my thoughts are about whether this model would work in education. What if rather than just looking at all the topics an educational institutions developed a focus on a narrow range of topics in which there were educators with a very specific kind of expertise that developed very specific content to meet a particular question. Although Demand Media's model is making money through volume, could you use the same model with lower volume, but pay for it with micropayments. What if in addition to producing content you sold "instruction" and/or "explanation" or feedback with such a system?

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