Part 3 - An Internet Hierarchy Is Formed Through Crowdsourcing
Despite the blurring of the lines that separate the responsibilities of an audience from the sponsor of a crowdsourcing project, the social hierarchy is specific and fixed. Time, money and social prestige play important roles in determining who can launch crowdsourcing ventures and what the topics of those efforts will be. This can be seen on Crowdswell, a site that allows people to upload problems they would like fixed such as graffiti. Projects are “selected” by the audience which contributes money to the project and whose numbers provide attention. But there is a threshold to entry. The website only allows crowdsourcers to collect the donated revenue after they achieve a level of success with the crowd. This requires an investment of time and money to “seed” the project. Those without either have no access to the crowd or its promise of dramatic returns on investment.
Despite public perception that the internet provides equal access, the positions of power in the virtual world are clearly defined and affirmed through the medium of crowdsourcing. For instance Klout gives users the opportunity to assess their internet presence and influence based on a numerical scale. If you have more web influence such as an active Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin account with lots of followers and friends, you have more of a “Klout.” Your Klout score is both a reflection of one’s influence and a means of leveraging that presence to achieve more influence. A Klout Perks Program provides monetary rewards to users with high Klout scores. Since Klout celebrates its high achieving users by publicizing their success in achieving notoriety among the crowd, the monetary perk is a small reward in relation to the further expansion of a person’s web influence. In gamifying Klout, its promoters have applied crowdsourcing tools – using the crowd and its appetites to determine influence – to the task of defining and affirming web-based social status. Since that status depends on an individual’s presence and participation in on-line activities, it is imperative to stay active in order to sustain a high profile. For those in the game, it is increasingly difficult to disconnect without suffering the severe consequences of losing the attention of the crowd.
The consequence of a loss of presence or web clout can be significant and material. An example is given by Bitcoin, a peer-to-peer virtual currency system in which no authority controls the flow of money. The value of bitcoinage is based on the level of participation. Crowdsourcing is, once again, the vehicle by which the technology of the internet is leveraged to create value. For the single user, wealth in bitcoins is a matter of collecting the virtual currency by mining them or trading with other players. An individual can assemble a group or pool to mine and trade more efficiently. For instance Bitcoin Pooled Mining is a website in which you can join a pool. Since the pool needs an operator who creates an online chain of command, Bitcoin inspires the creation of social hierarchy. The operator has the potential for a lot of control over the method by which Bitcoins are mined and then over the Bitcoins themselves. Operating without regulation and under the pretense that there was no real value in bitcoinage, a wild-west “free market” has emerged in which groups of people working in the Bitcoin “mines” are exploited by individuals who have amassed huge fortunes in virtual currency.
Another example is Amazon Mechanical Turk. This is a site on which people are paid to perform menial tasks for which they are paid as little as $1.45 an hour. The users are given mundane tasks such as writing a description for a store or distributing/sharing jobs that are currently impossible or too costly to accomplish with a computer. Many people participate since it is a simple and quick way to make pocket change. Some participate because there is very little demand on performance other than having access to a computer and the internet. Others use it because they consider it fun. No matter the reason, the site facilitates access to human labor at ridiculously low cost and with virtually no expenditure of capital to support an infrastructure of the workplace.