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Crowdsourcing The New Exploitation

by Dan Robles on June 7, 2010

The cadence of modern globalization has been set by the steady drive to lower labor costs across the world. Not surprisingly, the greatest threat to the global economy is social instability. As usual, political boundaries are drawn to keep people isolated from each other. The new twist is that Social Media arises because people are trying to reorganize themselves. Now, Crowdsourcing moves the eternal struggle to a new battle field.

There are two ways that the tools of the knowledge economy can integrate. 1. People are successful at reorganizing so that when the financial system does collapse, they can deploy a social currency to trade among each other. Or, 2. Social Media will become the new substrate of exploitation. Let me explain:

Turking is a phenomenon of crowdsourcing where people perform simple tasks on-line for money.  Highly intellectual tasks are broken down into small components easily managed by a simple human decision. Each of these simple human decisions are sent out to humans to perform. The results are then re-combined to become a high value knowledge economy product.

Even companies that perform this service for major corporations are astonished that people would work for so little money.  Academic studies declare that people are motivated by something other than money. Somehow Turking provides people with hope, self, validation, and all sorts of great personal benefit – otherwise they would not be doing it. This is good, right?

Wrong….people are desperate and turking is the last treadmill on the rat race to the bottom.

The idea that someone would work for free in order to gain “reputation” is built on the assumption that some “brand” is backing the reputation.  Brands don’t exist – they are fictitious.  Brands are what marketers say the are. Turking lets brands monetize their story line with cheap, invisible, and powerless labor force scattered around the world.

All the asset with none of the liability – and they call it a social miracle?

Most “turking” does not pay enough to cover the cost of the education required to complete the task. It costs a society countless thousands of dollars to teach and nurture a child to read and make good decision. Yet, the net payback is under 1.00 dollar per hour for the simplest turking tasks and net  5-10 dollars per hour for higher orders of analysis requiring specific and proficient skills.  If the turk work is rejected or they lose the “contest” they are not paid and their IP is stolen – no recourse, no rebuttal.

Worse yet, turkers from impoverished countries are valued relative to the disfunction of their economy, not their inherent intellect and creativity. This sets up a tragic dynamic where it becomes, again, in the best interest of some enterprise that the poor countries remain poor and dysfunctional. As such, the inherent intellectual and creative value of their people can be efficiently transferred to the shareholders.

There are social media alternatives under development by The Ingenesist Project and others that allow people to organize and sell their own information.  Applications are being devised that allow people to self organize into productive communities and to reward the nurturing and sharing of knowledge assets in community economic system. Dynamic business systems are under development that reward high integrity and punish low integrity.

The great question of our time is: Who will win, financial currency or social currency?

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