The Rise of Algorithm Marketplaces


Algorithms make the world go ‘round, and they take a lot of time and anguish to not only develop, but also refine. Not all independent contractors and startups can spare that sort of effort (not to mention money), which is why a number of them have turned to algorithm marketplaces.

These marketplaces include Algorithmia, which bills itself as a community for “state-of-the-art algorithm development.” Available algorithms include text analysis, machine learning, Web, computer vision, micro-services (such as generating a CAPTCHA to test whether a Web user is a real human being), and computational mathematics.

Marketplaces have the added benefit of surfacing algorithms in ways that people can find more easily than scouring through academic databases or obscure areas of GitHub. Algorithmia, for example, features “Trending Algorithms” and “Trending Bounties” on its front page, as well as a robust search function.

There are also specialized algorithm marketplaces, such as the one launched by Precision Hawk (via its Data Mapper software platform) for agriculture analysis; data scientists can upload and market their own tools on that market. Over the past few years, software companies such as DataXu have released similarly narrow-focused marketplaces—although many simply contained those companies’ own products, rather than opening up to developers and data scientists.

For those who don’t have the skills to construct an algorithm from scratch, but need one to accomplish a task, a marketplace could prove an ideal solution. And for those who do build algorithms, placing your work on such a platform could expose you to a whole new audience.

But the marketplaces’ public nature means they’re not for everyone. Many a business—from search engines like Google to various e-commerce setups—runs on a tightly guarded, highly secretive algorithm. Using widely available algorithms means that any competitor could swoop in and replicate at least part of your feature set; and for that reason alone, a selection of startups and established companies probably won’t rely on algorithm marketplaces, no matter how big the latter grow.