Part 4 - Crowdsourcing Has the Ability to Monetize Every Action That Is Carried Out and Each Object That Is Consumed
Crowdsourcing has created a new work ecology in which the perception of labor and its value has changed. In the crowdsourcing context, gamifying work has made entertainment the primary and most tangible form of compensation. This new protocol of work for fun obscures what can only be described as exploitation of the workers who constitute the crowd and trade their labor, knowledge and experience for little or no monetary compensation. The degree of exploitation varies from marginal to shocking. On the marginal side, members of the crowd can trade opinions about a product and provide free market research data while, ostensibly, influencing the development of that product in ways that benefit them as consumers. On the shocking side, crowdsourced audiences are now able to sell their bodies through the Internet in a form of prostitution. Makelovenotporn.tv is a website on which people can post pornographic web content for other people to buy and share. The site owners retain a percentage of the revenue. Users suggest that by using the site they are expressing their freedom to display their bodies. They are also participating in what is commonly referred to as “the oldest profession.” On a less scandalous note – but still operating within the domain of bodies-for-sale, openprosthetics.org is a site in which audience members and asked to try out prosthetics. This is not a fundamentally a bad site; however it has the test subject use their body for uncompensated labor in the guise of bettering the world.
Ubiome is a crowdsourcing project that collects people’s micro biomes. Audience members submit samples of dried skin and hair and, in return, learn what types of biological matter their bodies support on the surface. The goal of the crowdsource venture is to develop a database of human microbiomes. Again, this is not a fundamentally usurious site. However it has the test subject use their body for uncompensated labor.
Another subject of usury is the oversaturation of smart technology that is making every aspect of our daily routines subject to the scrutiny of market researchers looking for clues into lifestyle habits that will enhance their efforts at selling products back to us. For instance, IBeacon is a smart object that mines the data from people in its vicinity. Stores can use this to collect data on shoppers. The technology is not strictly limited to the internet though since cell phones are now capable of transmitting locational information which can be translated through GIS into useful data with predictive potential.
These data collection technologies form the cornerstone of “Big Data,” creating a limitless supply of seemingly inconsequential data collected from millions of potential consumers whose behavior patterns offer the potential to predict what they will more likely spend their money on. As with many crowdsourcing projects, the argument for participation is, first, that it is fun and entertaining and second, that in participating we are allowing our interests to help determine what kinds of products and services will be offered for sale.
But, does this personal data really identify things we, as individuals, want? Or, is its scale and the relative anonymity of any person in the crowd just force our tastes and values to be expressed as the lowest common denominator? It seems that in a crowdsourced world driven by a quest to monetize every piece of data, do we run the risk of losing rather than discovering our individual sensibilities. In fact, crowdsourcing may be dulling our critical faculties rather than sharpening them. Take, for example, the case of “the liberator,” a proof-of-concept 3D-printed gun that generated positive online feedback when it was first presented (http://designandviolence.moma.org/the-liberator-by-defense-distributed/). The project itself was not crowdsourced. The gun template was only released to a handful of beta-testers all of whom agreed that the product was poorly designed. However, the initial positive public feedback created a platform for a viral acceleration of marketing buzz. An audience of all-too-willing endorsers created an enduring persona for a product with little to be said for it.