The State of Distributed Labour

A lengthy, complete, readable and fascinating report on the important Internet as Playground and Factory conference, which was organized by Trebor Scholz last month.

A short excerpt to give you a taste:

“Jonathan Zittrain, in what may have been the most entertaining, broadly accessible, and example-rich presentation at IPF, mostly probed cases of paid distributed labor. The often little known instances of distributed labor that he introduced included LiveOps, an outsourcing agency that enabled the Red Cross to recruit in-home freelance agents who processed 17,000 phone calls in the days after Hurricane Katrina had struck the Gulf Coast.

Other illustrations of “out crowding,” mostly in the area of innovation, included Crowdflower, Solvate, Innocentive, and the work of the Prize Foundation. At’s Mechanical Turk even “the dimmest bulb” can make a few dollars, as he put it. Our individual web searches powered Google’s Flu Trend map. “Crowdsourced” stock market predictions are at the core of

But Zittrain also made some skeptical notes about specific services such as the well-known service, which allows its customers to secretly buy grassroots support. A reputable member of the referral service, for example, may receive undercover-payments to “dig” (recommend) a site or product that he would otherwise not get excited about. In other words, given enough capital, your business can shine on the Social Web, even if it is mediocre. I’d compare this to China’s “50 Cent Army,” which consists of bloggers who get paid for pro-government comments or to Iran’s 10,000 Basji paramilitary forces, which were ordered to start blogging. With, dollars can buy your business a good reputation on the Web.

BBC News reports that ”captcha sweatshops” are used in the developing world “where spammers employ humans to decode 12 ‘captchas’ a minute, all day long.” A “captcha” is a test used in computing to ensure that the response is not generated by a computer.

In a Newsweek article entitled “Work the New Digital Sweatshops” he suggests to adopt labor standards to the Internet.

-Jonathan Zittrain, :

“For one thing, online contracting circumvents a range of labor laws and practices, found in most developed countries, that govern worker protections, minimum wage, health and retirement benefits, child labor, and so forth. Any jurisdiction that imposes restrictions on how crowdsourcing services operate might find itself bypassed…”

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