Crowdworking

I’m a big fan of this concept, so this bit of anecdotal evidence is discouraging. A BBC reporter spent a week trying to earn a living from crowdwork. In total: 37 hours worked, 19.16 GBP earned. I’m sure others can do better (and this was only an experiment), but still.. does anyone know of some proper stats on the hourly pay distribution of crowdsourced work?

I can’t help but think that these skills would be renumerated better if they were hired as employees or contractors. If that’s correct, I have some guesses as to why:

  • Buyers of the skills get less value from the workers because of the quasi-anonymity and one-off nature of the relationship.
  • The middle-man doesn’t add much value.

In light of the news of Ronald Coase’s recent passing away, we might want to consider whether this crowdworking phenomena can be understood in terms of his transaction cost analysis of firms.

I’ve had some limited experience as a consumer of crowdwork. My impression so far is that you have to wade through a sea of rubbish before you find someone worth paying. And when you’re there, you’d really rather deal with the person one-on-one in an on-going, no-commitments basis. What makes all of this work is search and reputation, and a fragmented hodge podge of different crowdwork platforms doesn’t really perform either of those functions very well.

Indeed, the very term “crowdwork” suggests the wrong framework, in my opinion. Most work takes place over time and needs to be integrated by the entrepreneur or manager with other work to make the whole. Both of those factors require lots of tacit knowledge on the part of both worker and employer. Tacit knowledge is the sort of knowledge that only really exists in the minds of individuals or small groups. You can’t share it with a paid “crowd”.

To make this empowering vision work, I think we need a protocol rather than crowdworking platforms.

Oh, and the highest paying gig the journo did was.. getting paid to click “likes” on websites, something that requires no skill at all!

One thought on “Crowdworking

  1. Interesting, a whole category of platforms are missing from the BBC experiment (oDesk, freelancer, elance to name but a few). A quick look at the job offerings there provides some anecdotal evidence that people can make at least $10-50+ dollars per hour from online work if they have any solid, marketable skills.

    Still there may be a big gap between the top real-world pay rates and online rates. Yet there are weaknesses with the real world model too – travel costs, opacity, imperfect incentives.

    I suspect a combination of transparency, performance data and incentives to truthfully report the actual work done and the experience by both parties, may eventually lead to pay rates per hour being significantly higher online than in the ‘real world’. But the only way to test that hypothesis would be to develop a system that delivers these rates..

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