Allison's Reflections

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Blog #0011: Assembly Line 2.0? My Thoughts on Crowd Work

Filed under: Uncategorized — allee at 10:30 pm on Thursday, September 22, 2016

What could one do if 627 minutes were added onto each day?

While I can’t speak for everyone, I know that I’d probably go on a run, practice oboe, and sleep (as well as procrastinate away more of that precious time than I’d like to admit). But even with all of those activities factored in, I’d still probably have multiple hours to spare. This was the number of minutes that Henry Ford’s implementation of the assembly line reduced the production time of his famous Model T by. When the new strategy was introduced, it revolutionized the industry and economy!

I personally see the same potential in paid, online crowd work, which was defined in one of our readings as “the performance of tasks online by distributed crowd workers who are financially compensated by requesters (individuals, groups, or organizations)” (Kittur 2). But as Kittur warns, there are many possible flaws with crowd work in practice. In this blog, I’d like to add to some of the specific points in Kittur’s argument both for and against crowd work. When doing so, I’d like to also compare and contrast some of the characteristics of crowd work to the kind of work I did at my internship at a .com company this past summer.


  • Flexible workforce and no shortage of experts in a certain geo: Because of the pool of available workers, crowd work would certainly have a very accommodating resource at its disposal. While Kittur does not explicitly state what this “flexibility” is in regards to, I interpreted his words to be referring to chronological, cultural, and linguistic constraints. These were obstacles that often detracted from efficiency at my workplace. The company’s website was run in over 50 different languages to appeal to a wide range of clients. However, this made it imperative for the company to hire employees to specialize in each language. The company had to expend money for recruiting; moreover, once hired, language specialists in the US would have to work undesirable hours to accommodate for clients in the country they specialized in. If crowd work were to be introduced, surely there would be  plenty of individuals within the pool of workers, so economic efficiencies and strains on workers’ lifestyles would be reduced.
  • Chances for income and social mobility in disadvantaged areas: This particular point had a lot of appeal to me. Especially in developing countries, perhaps crowd work would allow previously unemployed individuals to work. This could stimulate a lot of economic growth, given that these individuals wouldn’t be hugely displacing current workers (a con mentioned by Kittur).


  • Potential for super low pay: Attempts to implement crowd work on a major scale would certainly bring up issues with the current policies and regulations regarding employees’ rights. Who would be in charge of creating rules for crowd work employees and employers, and who could possibly enforce them? Would a minimum wage no longer be set? For individuals whose incomes come only from crowd work, should a set of benefits be promised? There are so many questions that would come with crowd work becoming mainstream, especially if people began working exclusively on crowd work projects.

Reading Kittur’s arguments also led me to think further about the idea of anonymity and accountability, two entities that intertwine very interestingly in the online realm. There is a certain sense of anonymity on the Internet, which I see as a potential con for crowd work. Perhaps crowd work employers would not be as careful with background checks, especially because a requirement to provide too much information might deter potential applicants. SSN’s aren’t something people just disclose on the Internet, and identity theft rates would surely increase if people began posing as employers and asking for personal information. There is an ongoing debate regarding ex-convicts’ employment rights, and crowd work might add another dimension to that. In addition, increased anonymity might lead to people feeling less accountable for their work. This could result in the inefficiencies some people associate with working from home such as an increase in careless mistakes or shirked responsibilities. I’d like to discuss this in seminar next week to learn about my peers’ perspectives on this. Until then! 🙂

1 Comment »


Comment by Mike Smith

September 25, 2016 @ 12:59 pm

Fantastic points. How would you define full-time and part-time employment in crowd sourcing?

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