Google, the company that once declared "No humans were harmed or even used in the creation of this page," is now soliciting a human touch when necessary. Google Places, for example, crowd-sources information about the locations on its service. "Because we can’t be on the ground in every city and town, we enable our great community of users to let us know when something needs to be updated," explains an official blog post. In this case, enlisting humans to do the work sounds peachy. That is, until it goes all wrong. "In recent months, plenty of perfectly healthy businesses across the country have expired--sometimes for hours, other times for weeks--though only in the online realm cataloged and curated by Google," writes The New York Times's David Segal. "The reason is that it is surprisingly easy to report a business as closed in Google Places, the search giant’s version of the local Yellow Pages." While seeking input from the masses might seem like a good idea, on a mass scale with so much information and so many people it doesn't quite work.
It's not that crowdsourcing never works, but for companies that have such large user bases things can get messy. Smaller search engines, Bing and Yahoo "are the scene of far less mischief," but social media giant, Facebook, has run into similar issues. Earlier this year, Facebook removed a photo of a fully clothed gay couple kissing, sending the following statement to the posters. "Shares that contain nudity, or any kind of graphic or sexually suggestive content, are not permitted on Facebook." The photo had not even a bare elbow--the flagging had been a mistake, as Facebook later conceded, a result of human input. Like the places debacle, Facebook relies on its millions of users to flag inappropriate content and then acts accordingly. It doesn't always work.