Oscar.howell/LOW definition

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The widespread use of the internet has made possible for many people to work online, that is, that they are able to perform parts or all of their work remotely (from home or from India).

It also has made the rise of collaborative peer-to-peer production (Benkler's definition) possible. In this kind of system people tend to contribute their efforts and use their assets not expecting to get paid for it. It is a non-market production system (as opposed to firm or market systems). They perform this kind of “work” at the same time that they pursue they normal jobs. This I define as "Labor on the Web" for lack of a better term.

What are the reasons that this kind of "labor" is being done? It seems counter-intuitive that somebody would perform a series of tasks on the Web to produce something, without being asked to do so and not expecting to get paid fot it.

Reason One: The work performed is highly granular: the units of production are so tiny (and the size of the group performing them is so large), and they can be performed easily. The monetary motivation of the agent diminishes and tends to zero. The motivations are social (social capital) or psychological (recognition).

Reason Two: Every bit of “work” is meaningless for itself. It becomes meaning only after being assembled into a whole (the product, the commons). The task of assembly may be undertaken by computers or by the members of the group themselves.

It is astonishing that given the right technology and the right motivations, so large groups of agents can assemble without central coordination and perform a production effort without any of them ever getting paid for it. The majority of the collaborators only perform a very small number of tasks each. It exhibits a Power Law distribution (The Long Tail).


Proposed Definition for "Labor on the Web":


  • It based on non-market systems (collaboration): It is present within a system that follows no pricing system (market) and is not organized in the form of a corporation (command). It is mostly in a peer-to-peer production environment.
  • It is small to very small (granularity): It requires of the person performing the task very little time, and it does not require to fulfill a definite number of tasks to be completed.
  • Must be assembled to be meaningful (modularity): In most cases one specific task is not relevant for the finished product or service. Tasks can be fitted together.
  • Can be performed by a person (human capital): The person who does the task is using human judgement and capital.
  • Can be performed by a device a person owns (assets): A person can use assets she owns (processing power) to instruct them or make them available to perform a computational task required by a third party on a remote location.
  • Productivity is measured as accuracy of contribution: There are no requirements to perform a task in a given time by the lowest possible number of persons. There are no clear quality requirements. Instead a high number of participants is encouraged, and proudctivity is meassured as the time needed to obtain accurate responses, after redundancy and filtering. Redundancy is expected and not eliminated.
  • Can be paid, unpaid or "token": The motivations to perform the task can be very varied, possibly within the same project. The fact that monetary motivation is not of central importance can cause that agents forgo payment completly or accept "tokens" (i.e. stars system in Wikipedia).
  • No contractual relationship: A formal contract that regulates the work performed and the expenses incurred by the performing agent is not celebrated.
  • Exhibits a power law distribution: A large number of agents perform a small number of tasks, while a small number of agents perform a large number of tasks.