An ethnographic study of crowdwork via Amazon Mechanical Turk in India

Gupta, Neha (2017) An ethnographic study of crowdwork via Amazon Mechanical Turk in India. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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With the growth of ubiquitous computing, it is becoming increasingly easy to carry out work from anywhere, using a simple computing device that can connect you to the internet. Governments, policy makers, not-for-profit and scientific organizations have been reaching out to members of the general public - citizens, popularly known as the ‘crowd’, to get their ideas, opinions and expertise on various matters. This phenomenon of using the expertise of the ‘crowd’ for different purposes is called ‘crowdsourcing’. For sometime now businesses have been looking for new ways of saving money, beyond outsourcing, for their organizations; and have thus started reaching out to the crowd, through various platforms online to get access to a cheap, mobile workforce that is presumably available round the clock. Employing the crowd comes with massive benefits for such organisations that choose to use them: the crowd-workers serve as contractors or daily workers, who do not receive standard employee benefits such as holiday pay and insurance, as well as, pay for their own primary resources – the internet, computer, infrastructural and subsistence costs. There is also no current legislation that provides guidelines regarding such type of work, although there are quite a few researchers and advocacy groups now trying to change this.

For the workers, crowdsourcing provides opportunities to make money, get exposure towards developing skills, learning to work and see a world outside their own all thanks to growth in tele-communication technologies and unstable employment patterns around the world. And although there is a lot of discourse surrounding crowdsourcing and crowdwork, particularly due to the legal aspect of such work, not much is understood about the work and the workers. Questions about this workforce remain unanswered such as: why does the crowd choose to do this type of work, how do they find these crowdsourcing platforms and crowdsourced jobs, what do they look for in the jobs they pick, how they organized their activities (both work and non-work), what tools and technologies they used, what might their concerns be as workers, how do they relate to requesters and the work platform? This thesis aims to provide insights into the work of crowdwork, what entails ‘doing crowdwork’, from the perspective of the workers who partake in crowdsourced work through online platforms. The thesis presents insights from an ethnographic study conducted in India through the summer of 2013, of crowdworkers, with a particular focus on Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT) as the principle site for work. The naturalistic data was collected from virtual and in-person interviews as well as observations of crowdworkers in their places of work and dwelling, and analysed with an ethnomethodological orientation to data, to uncover the local methods of the workers in their own words, to provide more information about this understudied cohort.

Learning about crowdwork and the workers is important because this type of work has potential from an organizational perspective; a variety of relatively low-skilled work such as data entry processing, tagging, information verification, transcription and translation are being (and could be) crowdsourced by medium and large organisations. Hence this thesis makes contributions to the fields of human computation, CSCW, HCI and crowdsourcing by bringing forth insights into ‘doing crowdwork’ and ‘being a crowdworker’, which might help parties interested in using, applying or designing for crowdsourced work and crowdsourcing platforms, as well as, researchers and designers interested in this field.

The contributions of the thesis include:

• Uncovering the heterogeneity in the motives of turkers: what motivates workers to work on platforms like AMT, and why they choose to continue their engagement with such work and platforms.

• The features of the crowdsourcing platform: what made a platform attractive to the turkers? For instance, features such as ease of use and flexibility in choosing work, played an important role in crowdsourcing.

• The social nature of work: although crowdwork is highly individualized and atomic, the nature of work itself was very social. Most workers found that they needed help for one thing or the other and found online resources such as forums and Facebook groups to get support or information regarding work and personal life.

• Invisible work and constant contingency management undertaken by the crowdworkers: Workers had to find and do work while managing contingencies that were created due to the opaque nature of the platform studied, AMT; requiring them to seek help externally, e.g by means of browser plug-ins, to help them work around this opacity, at the same time, creating more unpaid work for them.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Crabtree, Andy
Rodden, Tom
Keywords: crowdsourcing, HCI, ethnography, artificial intelligence, Amazon Mechanical Turk, CSCW, ICTD
Subjects: Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA 75 Electronic computers. Computer science
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Science > School of Computer Science
Item ID: 41062
Depositing User: Gupta, Neha
Date Deposited: 18 Jul 2017 04:40
Last Modified: 10 May 2018 08:39

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