Microworkers: Studies portray a segment with nameless, faceless workers with no obvious qualifications apart from basic literacy skills. The net result is high worker numbers and low pay which results in stiff competition for jobs and varying payment terms, based on geography. The only survival mechanism for workers is regularly checking for work on the platform, that results in long and inflexible working hours. The successful workers often use additional s/w tools e.g. scripts to get quick jobs and may grab many jobs and employ others to carry it out. Whilst workers are often anonymous, workers have formed outreach groups for knowledge sharing, support and collective bargaining.
Studies on microwork portray nameless, faceless workers with no professional title, career progression, or guarantee for work (Anwar and Graham 2019; Berg et al. 2018; Martin et al. 2016; Onkokame, Schoentgen, and Gillwald 2018; Wood et al. 2019b; 2019a). One respondent in a study by Berg et al. posits, “I feel in control of the work but have no control over when work will be available” (2018, 65). Although anyone can join and start earning, one Amazon Mechanical Turk worker says,
It’s an extremely unstable existence…. I cannot say to myself I’m going to log in from 9 to 5 today and do enough work to make X amount of dollars. Sometimes there is work you can do, sometimes there isn’t…. So it becomes the right time, right place, and fighting other workers for the better-paying tasks/work if/when they are available. If you want to be successful, you can’t stop. You can’t log out…. (Berg 2016, 15).
These are the two sides of a coin; microwork is good if you know where, when, and how to look. “The toughest part of turking for a living is actually finding the jobs, for every hour I spend working I most likely spend 2 hours monitoring the various scripts I have running to see what jobs show up” (Berg 2016, 14). On the flipside, work is characterized by low pay of around “$2-6 an hour” (Berg 2016, 12), long and inflexible working hours, including having to work “in the middle of the night” (Gupta, Crabtree, et al. 2014, 20; Wood et al. 2019a, 68), and unpaid hours, where workers spend most of the time searching or getting screened out for surveys. Workers also complain about lack of respect (Panteli, Rapti, and Scholarios 2020, 191), fluctuating payment terms, whereby contractors fail to “discuss all the terms from the very start” (D’Cruz and Noronha 2016, 50), and work being closed before uploading. “I have done this many times and ‘submitted’ HITs successfully but sometimes it doesn’t work because by the time I complete the survey the HIT disappears” (Gupta, Martin, et al. 2014, 8).
Workers also state the lack of redress mechanisms when penalized and request for leniency. “When you work at a real job, you are given time to learn and make mistakes and are given feedback, but in crowd work, the first time you make a mistake […] you are rejected, maybe even blocked” (Berg et al. 2018, 79). One crowdworker complained,
I think one of the past few times, something I did went wrong as I got some warning emails from Amazon and finally got blocked. I was pretty sure I had done the task correctly and had seen the instructions before but perhaps I misunderstood something and now I might get suspended. (Gupta, Martin, et al. 2014, 9)
Interestingly, more experienced workers spend less time on tasks (Berg et al. 2018; Margaryan 2016). “In my own laptop I use Chrome and have installed many scripts […] I am usually much faster and better on it,” stated one (Gupta, Martin, et al. 2014, 4). They also use social channels for outreach, collective bargaining (Wood, Lehdonvirta, and Graham 2018), and knowledge sharing, i.e., “training new MTurk workers, educating them on best practices, and helping them when issues arise” (Panteli, Rapti, and Scholarios 2020, 192). One worker stated, “I get what social support I need for turking from chatting with other turkers online” bargaining (Lehdonvirta 2016, 70).
Anwar, Mohammad Amir, and Mark Graham. 2019. “Digital Labour at Economic Margins: African Workers and the Global Information Economy.” SSRN Scholarly Paper ID 3499706. Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network. https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=3499706.
Berg, Janine. 2016. “Income Security in the On-Demand Economy: Findings and Policy Lessons from a Survey of Crowdworkers.” ILO Working Paper 74. Conditions of Work and Employment Series. Geneva, Switzerland: International Labour Organization. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_protect/—protrav/—travail/documents/publication/wcms_479693.pdf.
Berg, Janine, Marianne Furrer, Ellie Harmon, Uma Rani, and M Six Silberman. 2018. “Digital Labour Platforms and the Future of Work: Towards Decent Work in the Online World.” Geneva: International Labour Office (ILO). https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_645337.pdf.
D’Cruz, Premilla, and Ernesto Noronha. 2016. “Positives Outweighing Negatives: The Experiences of Indian Crowdsourced Workers.” Work Organisation, Labour & Globalisation 10 (1): 44–63. https://doi.org/10.13169/workorgalaboglob.10.1.0044.
Gupta, Neha, Andy Crabtree, Tom Rodden, David Martin, and Jacki O’Neill. 2014. “Understanding Indian Crowdworkers.” In Back to the Future of Organizational Work: Crowdsourcing and Digital Work Marketplaces Workshop. Baltimore, MD. http://www.cs.nott.ac.uk/~pszaxc/work/CSCW_2014b.pdf.
Gupta, Neha, David Martin, Benjamin V. Hanrahan, and Jacki O’Neill. 2014. “Turk-Life in India.” In Proceedings of the 18th International Conference on Supporting Group Work – GROUP ’14, 1–11. Sanibel Island, Florida, USA: ACM Press. https://doi.org/10.1145/2660398.2660403.
Lehdonvirta, Vili. 2016. “Algorithms That Divide and Unite: Delocalization, Identity, and Collective Action in ‘Microwork.’” In Space, Place and Global Digital Work, edited by J. Flecker, 53–81. London: Palgrave-Macmillan.
Margaryan, Anoush. 2016. “Understanding Crowdworkers’ Learning Practices.” In . Oxford. http://ipp.oii.ox.ac.uk/sites/ipp/files/documents/FullPaper-CrowdworkerLearning-MargaryanForIPP-100816%281%29.pdf.
Martin, David, Jacki O’Neill, Neha Gupta, and Benjamin V. Hanrahan. 2016. “Turking in a Global Labour Market.” Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) 25 (1): 39–77. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10606-015-9241-6.
Onkokame, Mothobi, Aude Schoentgen, and Alison Gillwald. 2018. “What Is the State of Microwork in Africa? A View from Seven Countries.” Cape Town, South Africa: Research ICT Africa. https://researchictafrica.net/wp/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/After-Access_The-state-of-microwork-in-Africa.pdf.
Panteli, Niki, Andriana Rapti, and Dora Scholarios. 2020. “‘If He Just Knew Who We Were’ : Microworkers’ Emerging Bonds of Attachment in a Fragmented Employment Relationship.” Work, Employment and Society 34 (3): 476–94. https://doi.org/10.1177/0950017019897872.
Wood, Alex J, Mark Graham, Vili Lehdonvirta, and Isis Hjorth. 2019a. “Good Gig, Bad Gig: Autonomy and Algorithmic Control in the Global Gig Economy.” Work, Employment and Society 33 (1): 56–75. https://doi.org/10.1177/0950017018785616.
———. 2019b. “Networked but Commodified: The (Dis)Embeddedness of Digital Labour in the Gig Economy.” Sociology 53 (5): 931–50. https://doi.org/10.1177/0038038519828906.
Wood, Alex J., Vili Lehdonvirta, and Mark Graham. 2018. “Workers of the Internet Unite? Online Freelancer Organisation among Remote Gig Economy Workers in Six Asian and African Countries.” New Technology, Work and Employment 33 (2): 95–112. https://doi.org/10.1111/ntwe.12112.