Blogging mostly about mundane stuff like, immigration, Workers' Compensation and other immigrant related activities.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Help Wanted, Will Pay $0.69 Per Hour

About six months ago I had a discussion with my friend Emerson Quevedo a Los Angeles based blogger and podcaster. Emerson who is from Guatemala creates podcasts and writes blog posts on technology in Spanish.

We touched on the digital divide and how both of us derive some level of income from using the internet. We considered how webservices such as Amazon's Mechanical Turk could be harnessed and used in Mexico and Central America as an income generator for unemployed and underemployed citizens.

I had already experimented with Mechanical Turk for about two hours and generated $1.10 for my account. Now the $1.10 hardly meets a living wage standard particularly if you live in Los Angeles, but what if you live in Mexico or Central America where the average daily wage is about $4.00 per day?

Today, I found this post by Aaron Koblin who posted on the We-Make-Money-Not-Art website a story about thousands of workers who participated in drawing "sheep facing to the left". The workers reportedly earned an average hour wage of "$0.69 per hour" for creating the sheep. The 10,000 sheep are now at The Sheep Market where they are now selling for an average $20.00 per sheep.

The fact that workers were paid on average $0.69 per hour for creating "left-facing-sheep" and that those exact sheep are now selling on the Internet for $20.00 US Dollars. The workers were paid 2 cents to draw a sheep facing to the left and spent on average: 105 seconds to draw each sheep.

This reminded me of the documentary The Corporation and the Nike internal documents that showed workers taking 6.6141 minutes to make a shirt, which resulted in 9 shirts per hour.

I got into that investigate mode and I wondered who could possibly want to exploit the thousands of "left-facing-sheep creators"? I set out on a WHOIS domain search and discovered that "thesheepmarket" is actually owned by an enterprising Aaron Koblin himself. That left me wondering how many sheep Koblin has actually sold?

I called the number listed on the WHOIS to see if I could get some answers from Aaron, but the number listed is no longer in service. As of now, I've sent an an email to Aaron seeking comment on the success of his Sheep Market venture.

Update: I received an email response from Aaron. Turns out he is not really some big faceless conglomerate just looking to exploit workers of the world, even if they are only drawing "left-facing-sheep".

Aaron wrote:

"I have not, as of writing this e-mail, generated enough income to cover my expenses, but I expect to. I'm glad to see that you're thinking about these issues. I am also interested in the ramifications of the MTurk system on the global market. Without claiming to have any answers I hope that my project may start people thinking about some of the very issues..."

Aaron Koblin studied Art at the University of California, Santa Cruz with a focus on Electronic Art, and was an Irwin Scholar in 2004. For more information about Aaron visit his website here.

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spcoon said...

nice work, tony.

the interesting thing about MT is that it engages the global economy issue from both sides. it can provide more money to workers (in the comfort of their own homes or libraries), yet it also increases the ability to gain from the entrepreneurial side.

it's kinda like a good-for-everyone bandaid, until there is no first and third-word status separating people.

yeah... that'll change real soon. any day now. any. day...

MorpheoZ said...

Interesting post!

I remember when we discussed the future and potential of the MT, I knew that it was just the beginning. and it is indeed.

But for this to happen and really result in an economical impact we still need to develop a better infrastructure in our third world countries. What I mean is: even when internet cafe's and libraries are making internet access more accessible now in Latin America (and of course any other third world country), Internet access is not available for most of the unemployed or underpaid employees. and for sure is not affordable. - unless You have any sort of free internet access... like libraries per say. -

I think that a combination of an initiative like MT and a project like FON ( could be a good starting point, but again, not an easy task but not an impossible one.

Again... nice work and a really interesting article.