A friend just pointed me to http://www.gwap.com/gwap/ which is a collection of games that use a folksengine (distributed human intelligence) to collect/build valuable data sets. The Nasa Clickworker program broke ground on this concept... which was inspired by the success of Wikipedia. Another recent entry in the field was the Free Rice game, where you solve a vocabulary puzzle and for each one you get right, a sponsor donates $n to a food aid organization. What's different about Gwap is that the results of your game directly contribute to the database, which is the same end-result as Clickworkers - but NASA didn't phrase their program as a game (although if they did, it may have been even more successful).
Gwap offers a series of games to accomplish the following:
* have people identify/tag photos
* identify/tag music
* build a database of common sense
* outline objects in photos
* rank perceived quality of photos
The creators of GWAP wrote an academic paper describing the concept in which they call it a "human algorithm." I heard rumor some time ago that someone(can't remember who) approached some large media/internet company (can't remember which one, google maybe) and said something like "i know how to tag your entire image library in under a year at almost no cost to you. if you hire me, i'll make it happen." and this person's big idea was to create this sort of game. The heresay is that this person was then hired.
It's of particular interest to me as we're working on the Volunteer Now application that intends to, similarly, harvest people's spare time and to direct it towards doing good. I wonder if we should consider a gaming angle? Can the concept of aggregating human knowledge via a distributed game work in the context of doing social good
Other games of this sort mentioned in the academic paper (haven't checked these out yet): Open Mind, Mind Pixel, Cyc
Added June 11:
This is brilliant! Just came across the guy who invented CAPTCHAs is now turning all of the thousands of hours used to solve captchas into productive time. He's scanning old books that need to be digitized (and that are too hard for standard OCR to handle) and using them as captchas - so that all of the human smarts gets put to good use. I love it! He's also doing an image tagging game ESP game and a language translation game. Some interesting stats also cited:
9 billion hours are spent every year on solitare
7 million spent to build empire state building
20 million spent to build panama canal