Oscar.howell/Labor on the Web

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Project Page: Labor on the Web

Proposed Structure of the Presentation

Definition of "Labor on the Web"

Notes and references for this slide: Definition

  • Is based on non-market systems (collaboration)
  • It is small to very small (granularity)
  • Must be assembled to be meaningful (modularity)
  • Can be performed by a person (human capital)
  • Can be performed by a device a person owns (assets)
  • Productivity is measured as accuracy of contribution
  • Can be paid, unpaid or "token"
  • No formal contractual relationship
  • Exhibits a power law distribution
  • (It is NOT an outsourcing job enabled by IT)
  • (It is NOT a Home Worker or other kind of out-of-the-office type of work)

Types of Labor on the Web

Notes and references for this slide: Types of LOW

  • Crowdcasting
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Artificial Artificial Intelligence
  • Assembled Distributed Computing
  • Mass collaboration
  • Avatar Agency (MMORPGs)
  • "Buzz" Marketing

The Impact of The Long Tail

Notes and references for this slide: LOW and Long Tail

  • Collaborative Networks with large numbers of participants follow a Power Law distribution
  • The small population of very frequent "workers" can have monetary motivations
  • The large population of low frequency "workers" have monetary motivations that tend to be trivial, but social capital is important
  • How to reward monetary motivations without disrupting the cohesion of the network?

Case 1: AOL Community Leader Program

Notes and references for Aol Community Leader Program

  • Volunteer moderators worked like employees
  • Fair Labor Standards Act
  • Department of Labor Investigation
  • AOL cut volunteers
  • Class Action Suit still pending

Case 2: Meraki Mesh Network

Notes and references for this slide: Meraki Case

  • Individual becomes Internet Access Provider (IAP)
  • Every IAP is part of a large mesh network
  • IAP contributes own equipment and access
  • The users connecting don’t pay for service.
  • The IAP can display ads.
  • Strong social and community motivation.
  • Tools allow IAP to prevent misuse and overload.
  • Compensation is not related to cost.

Case 3: Webdeveloper.com

Notes and references for webdeveloper.com

  • A community that produces content about SW development
  • Collaborative work and Commons

Case 4: Amazon's Mechanical Turk

>> Notes and References for this slide: Amazon MT Case

  • Amazon promotes it as a "markeplace for work"
  • A HIT (Human Intelligence Task) is a unit of work performed
  • "Requesters" send out HITs using the system
  • "Providers" perform the HITs online and "earn" payments
  • Payment is done via the Amazon Payment System
  • Prepaid HITs are tokens (not real currency units)
  • Amazon explicitly mentions problem of "employment status"
  • Only US and Indian workers get paid in cash.

Relevant Issues

>> Notes and references for this slide: Issues

  • Employer/worker relationship becomes non-personal
  • Minimum Wages & Worker Claims.
  • Contractual Relationship.
  • "Tragedy" of mass collaboration.
  • Payment methods (micro-payments)
  • Child labor & worker ID.

There must be a way of leveraging the money-making business models with the power that mass Labor on the Web has shown to have. For businesses, many examples of providing incentive through non-monetary means. For instance, users have been shown to naturally want to help out a non-profit, or small company fighting against the big-guys (open source software). But when it's a known large-company that makes a lot of money, users may feel like they deserve some of that money when they help out. AOL showed that providing users with adequate compensation (which doesn't have to be money) is necessary. We may need to standardize a clear level of expectations of what the user is doing for the company.

In the future we will see more business models using social networks, mass collaboration and LOW for profit and competitive advantage. Rules for worker rights, employer protection and payment methods will become relevant.
LOW could also become an option for low income workers in developing countries. Issues of international money flows, child labor and money laundering could become relevant.

Business Models

Possible Cases


New References


  • Rishad Aiyer Ghosh, editor, C.O.D.E., Collaborative Ownership and the Digital Economy
  • Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks