About rewards and motivation (Lessons learned I)

The development of my first crowdsourcing initiative is going well and soon I will be able to start analyzing all the collected data. However, I think that as important as these data are the lessons I’m learning about the application of crowdsourcing in real life.

One of these lessons has to do with the reward offered to the crowd.

In theory

This reward will always satisfy some of the needs identified by Maslow: basic needs, security needs, social recognition, or self-esteem (being to have fun a transverse motivation that may appear when doing any activity that could satisfy any need).

With regard to crowdsourcing, some studies have identified various rewards that attract crowdworkers.

Money is one of the rewards mentioned. The amounts can range from a few cents, as offered in some Amazon Mechanical Turk tasks, to a few hundred dollars, as in the designs of 99designs, to hundreds of thousands of dollars, as some challenges to InnoCentive.

Other rewards are the opportunity to develop creative skills, have fun, share knowledge with others, the possibility of freelance work, love to a community and an “addiction” to the task proposed, understanding addiction as an exaggeration that refers to the time spent in the crowdsourcing platform and love to that platform.

The importance of reward is due to a direct relationship with the user’s motivation. Now it’s important to differentiate between two kinds of motivation: intrinsic motivation, which drives the individual to perform an activity for the pleasure of its realization, and extrinsic motivation, which implies that the individual performing an activity does it because he is going to receive something in exchange.

The ideal situation in crowdsourcing, and really difficult to achieve, isn’t that one in which money or recognition is provided (extrinsic motivators) but one in which the crowdworkers involved in crowdsourcing initiative realize the task because they love it and have fun doing it, as in Open Source communities (intrinsic motivators).

In practice

At the moment of truth, as some authors say, it is quite difficult to find a task that involves an intrinsic motivation for crowdworkers, so the rewards are very important to move users to perform the requested task.

The problem is to find the appropriate reward.

Firstly it should be noted that the reward that can be provided is determined by the capability of the crowdsourcer. The initiative that I launched offers two rewards limited by the actual situation of the company: a 15% discount and the promotion of a link. On one hand an economic benefit, only if the user wants to buy furniture from that company  (and here is the weakness in this reward), and secondly a promotion of a website (which only will use those with a personal or company website… if they want to promote it).

While it is true that those are not great rewards, it is also true that the tasked proposed to perform isn’t a difficult taks that will involve much time. This is another problem: people usually expect a reward that does not correspond to the task at hand, they usually expect a greater reward.

Finally, sometimes people can participate in a crowdsourcing initiative for reasons that go beyond the rewards offered. At InnoCentive, for example, a person may accept a proposed problem because it is an interesting intellectual challenge. In the case of my crowdsourcing initiative, there are few who have participated for the rewards. Many have participate just to help me in my thesis (eternally grateful) and others because it seemed an innovative initiative. The important thing is to never assume what will be the crowdworkers motivation. Each one participates for a reason… but ¿which one?



Stewart O., Huerta J.M. and Sader M., Designing crowdsourcing community for the enterprise. In: Proceedings of the ACM SIGKDD Workshop on Human Computation, HCOMP ’09 (ACM, New York, 2009) 50-53.

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