Ethics issues of creative crowdsourcing – part 1 (Final Round)

Finally, the summer gives a little respite and I can finish the series of posts about creative crowdsourcing and designers. The post title is more general than the previous two (round 1 and round 2) because I understand that the situation posed by the designers, is a situation that may occur in other crowdsourcing cases, and at the end, makes reference to the ethical aspects of crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourcing, by itself, is completely ethical and should not pose any problem. In fact, the fundamental idea of ​​crowdsourcing is based on reciprocity: some perform a task in exchange for a reward. What I call the quid pro quo principle.

From this point, the problems arise, problems that I identify as 4.

Ética y crowdsourcing

1. When rewards are not fair

In first place, the problem that may arise is that the reward is not fair. Such is the case of Amazon Mechanical Turk (also known as AMT), where users often consider the rewards too low. To see if this complaint is legitimate or not, we just have to make a small calculation.

A prototypical task is to tag images. On July 17, when I started writing this post, a task that consisted in labeling 5 images per $ 0.04 (I understand that more than one tag per image) could be found on the website of AMT (Amazon Mechanical Turk).

Lets assume that there are many (but many) tasks of this kind, and lets suppose also that each task needs 3 minutes to be done (label 5 images correctly). Half an hour of work would be $ 0.4 and, $ 0.8 one hour. In an 8-hour day work, a total of $ 6.4 can be earned (if all tasks carried out are approved by the crowdsourcer).

In summary, labeling 800 images in 8 hours would allow us to earn $6.4. It’s not too much, right?

Another case, very popular in these days, is the one of the creative crowdsourcing platforms. In these cases the rewards are greater than in the previous case. There are rewards of 150 €, 300 €, 900 € or 3000 €, which vary depending on the task: design a logo, a website, make a video, etc.. Here, as discussed by graphic designers, the price difference sometimes can be 3 or 4 times smaller. This way companies pay less for the result (renouncing to other aspects such as dealing with the designer, personalized attention – with all that it implies – and so on).

2. When not everybody receives a reward

In second place, we encounter situations in which not all participants receive a reward (and thus remuneration). This is type of crowdsourcing called crowdcontest, characterized because only one person receives a reward. In the worst case, none of the proposed designs will be the winner. Platforms of this type are for example InnoCentive or 12Designer (and other creative crowdsourcing platforms).

The main problem here is that all the work of the other crowdworkers will be discarded and not utilized. It is possible to find among these discarded designs, better ones than the winner design, or designs that could be useful in other circumstances, or designs that need little improve in certain aspects to be useful for crowdsourcers … but all the effort and work invested to nothing.

It is true that crowdworkers participate voluntarily, and they know that it is very likely that their own proposal will not be the winner, but this does not eliminate the existence of this problem.

The main problem is that because of this problem or weakness crowdsourcing is being associated to speculative work. AIGA (the professional association of design) defines the speculative work as work performed without compensation in the hope of being compensated. There are 5 situations of this type of work, one of which are the competitions: work done in the hopes of winning a prize—in whatever form that might take.

To delve further into the topic of crowdsourcing and speculative work, I recommend reading the article on the blog Jacob Cass, Just Creative: “The ‘Pros’ and Cons of spec Work”.

(Will continue in the next post…)

One comment

  1. Unfortunately the debate over the ethical nature of crowdsourcing may have legitimate origins. At least there are now some platforms working hard to operate what we here at Boom Ideanet refer to as “Crowdsourcing, Civilized.” We insist that ethical crowdsourcing is achievable, and this model can certainly benefit both the crowd and the company tapping into it.

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