||It has been suggested that Digital sweatshop be merged into this article. (Discuss) Proposed since April 2013.|
||It has been suggested that Ubiquitous human computing be merged into this article. (Discuss) Proposed since April 2013.|
Microwork is a series of small tasks which together comprise a large unified project, and are completed by many people over the Internet.   Microwork is considered the smallest unit of work in a virtual assembly line.  It is most often used to describe tasks for which no efficient algorithm has been devised, and require human intelligence to complete reliably. The term was developed in 2008 by Leila Chirayath Janah of Samasource.  
Microtasking is the process of splitting a job into its component microwork and distributing this work over the Internet. Since the inception of microwork, many online services have been developed that specialize in different types of microtasking. Most of them rely on a large, voluntary workforce composed of Internet users from around the world.
Good candidates for microtasks have the following characteristics: they are large volume tasks, they can be broken down into tasks that are done independently, and they require human judgement.
Microtasks are distinguished from macrotasks which typically can be done independently, they require a fixed amount of time and they require a specialized skill.
Amazon Mechanical Turk allows workers to choose and perform simple tasks online, reporting directly though the platform to receive payments in exchange. A task can be as simple as labelling photos or writing product descriptions and reviews. Employers submit tasks and set their own payments, which are often pennies for each task.
LiveOps uses a distributed network of people to run a "Cloud Call Center", a virtual call center or contact center: contracted workers can answer calls and provide other call center facilities without the need for the physical building or equipment of a traditional call center. The Red Cross utilized this system successfully during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, to process 17,000+ calls without having to open or hire staff for a call center.
Eli Lilly's InnoCentive allows businesses to post problems and offer payment for answers. These questions are often far less simple than tasks posted on services like Mechanical Turk, and the payments are accordingly higher. For example: "Think you can find a way to prevent orange juice stored in see-through bottles from turning brown? There may be $20,000 in it for you."
Samasource is a non-profit organization that allows people living in poverty the opportunity to complete microwork for a living wage. The service specializes in online content moderation, digitaltranscription, and data gathering and promotion.
Most uses of microtasking services involve processing data, especially online. These include driving traffic to websites, gathering data like email addresses or, and labelling or tagging data online. They are also used to accurately translate or transcribe audio clips and pictures, since these are activities that are better suited to humans than computers. These are used both for practical data conversion purposes, but also to improve upon and test the fidelity of machine learning algorithms. Identification of pictures by humans has been used to help in missing persons searches, though to little effect.
Other than the manipulation of data, these services are also a good platform for reaching a large population for social studies and surveys since they make it easy to offer monetary incentives.
Microtasking services as they are implemented now allow their workers to work from home. Workers complete tasks on a voluntary basis; other than with time-sensitive jobs like call centers, they choose which jobs to complete and when they complete them. Workers can work from anywhere in the world and receive payment directly over the internet. These payments are tax-free, though workers are required to declare their earnings themselves. Because workers can reside anywhere in the world, microwork can provide job opportunities for people living in poverty who would otherwise not be able to make a living wage. Through services like Samasource work and wealth are distributed from companies in developed countries to a large volume of families in poverty, especially women and youth who would otherwise not be able to generate income.
For employers, microtasking services provide a platform to quickly get a project online and start receiving results from many workers at the same time. The services offer large workforces which complete tasks concurrently, so large volumes of small tasks can be completed quickly. Furthermore, since each task is discretely contained and tasks are usually simple in nature, each individual worker does not have to be fully trained or have complete knowledge of the project to contribute work. Employers also do not have to file any paperwork or taxes since the workers are contractors.
Microtasking services have been criticized for circumventing healthcare/medicare benefits, pensions and retirement benefits, sick pay, or minimum wage, and they can also avoid laws on child labor and labor rights. Additionally, workers may have little idea of what their work is used for. The result may be that workers end up contributing to a project which has some negative impact or which they are morally opposed to.
Some services, especially Amazon Mechanical Turk and other services that pay pennies on the task, have been called "digital sweatshops" since working quickly to complete repetitive tasks yields an hourly wage of little over one dollar per hour. Wages generated from unskilled microwork are usually lower than minimum wage in developed countries. Because global services outsource work to underdeveloped or developing regions, competitive pricing and task completion could result in the devaluation of what is now essential data processing work. The possibility also exists for true brick and mortar sweatshops to exploit microtasking services by enlisting those that are too poor to afford a computer of their own and aggregating their work and wages. There is also the possibility that the requesters may tell the worker that they reject the work but cheat the worker by using it anyway to avoid paying for it.
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