The Sheep Market, proving the crowdsourcing exploitation

The Sheep Market

The ‘crowdsourcing’ is the controversial practice on which many services of the so-called web 2.0 are based. Crowdsourcing derives from ‘outsourcing’ (dislocating manufacturing activities where labour cost is cheaper), that basically consists of capitalizing on the net users’ intellectual labour, paying them cents or even nothing. At the front of this rising business there’s Amazon with its Mechanical Turk platform. This service offers to any business would ask for, a big amount of unskilled teleworkers, willing to do little works in their spare time. Mechanical Turk has been devised for a range of tasks, the more banal for a human being the more complicated for a computer. Examples of successful projects are the cataloguing with tags of pictures or the transcription of podcast transmissions. Although it has been recently opened, some anomalous uses of this platform has started to emerge. Why Are You Here, Right Now? is a Swedish editorial project that has gathered textual input by ‘turkers’ from all over the world. One thousands workers have replied to the above question for a penny. The resulting content has been edited and organized in fifty days and the book is on sale on a print-on-demand portal. The result is at the same time an investigation on a bored generation, desperately seeking stimuli and the celebration of a multitude attitude, anonymous nad fragmented. The Sheep Market is instead a work that uses the Mechanical Turk in a perfectly ironic manner. Aaron Koblin, a media designer has limited himself to ask to teleworkers to draw with an online tool a “sheep with the muzzle facing left” for two cents. Turkers has massively answered the call, filling in forty days a database with ten thousands sheep variations. When the project has been closed, Koblin has defiantly put the draws for sale at twenty dollars each, causing havoc among the communities of teleworkers. But the operation turned out to be perfectly legal: turkers has signed an agreement where they dropped any right on the pictures they created. The official website hosts a recording of the drawing session of each sheep and the overall statistics give some measure of the exploiting potential of such a mechanism. An inspiring parable for the future worker flocks.

Paolo Pedercini