The Crowdsourcing Sweatshop, Not Really

There is a lot going on in this review of the a SXSW session on the “dark side of social media” and the participants are raising really interesting points of view, but I want to focus in on one particular passage:

In many cases, companies have persuaded people to complete simple tasks for no pay at all, instead offering recognition within the volunteer community or points in the guise of a game. Mr. Zittrain called it “a wonderful Tom Sawyer syndrome.”

Crowdsourcing is not the virtual equivalent of a sweatshop. In fact, the notion is so preposterous that I find it difficult to argue against the point without resorting to just calling it preposterous. Ooops, I did it.

Here’s the difference, no one who is benefiting from the effects of crowdsourcing initiatives is achieving those benefits from forcible coercion and exploitation. Crowdsourcing initiatives don’t impose demands on the participant and at any time the person contributing can simply stop without consequences. This was the case with me and Foursquare, I stopped checking in.

I do believe that one of the challenges that any group who is initiating a crowdsourcing project has is finding the right mix of incentives and rewards that create a sense of fairness for company and consumer alike. Badges alone are not enough, actual rewards go a long way to creating sustainable equity and companies would be well advised to consider this in advance.


Man Bites Dog, Unintended Consequences From Bad Laws

Gossett is one of many San Mateo County landowners facing the unenviable possibility that just living on his land is about to get more expensive. The county is looking at non-renewing Williamson Act contracts for some 128 privately owned parcels currently incorporating small-scale agriculture and wildland areas like Gossett’s. The non-renewal process takes nine years, over which the county could gradually increase owners’ property taxes. County staff say the 128 parcels are out of compliance with the Williamson Act. But others say it’s possible the state’s ongoing budget crisis has caused Sacramento to put pressure on counties to tighten their interpretation of the law’s vague language. And the state itself may stop funding the act, which would threaten open space and cause problems for agricultural businesses across California.

128 San Mateo County Landowners Must Farm Natural Land or Pay Higher Taxes

There’s another way to look at this, which is that landowners who are getting a discount on their tax liability are creating a burden for everyone else to shoulder.

This is what happens when every program that appeals to our human interests becomes untouchable irrespective of the financial impact. If we were talking about a property tax break for an oil refinery or a Walmart then the sentiment would be dramatically different, even thought we are actually talking about exactly the same tax principle… if someone is getting a break, who is paying for it?

The amount of money that is involved with these 128 properties seems relatively small compared to the overall state budget, but when you add up this program with literally hundreds of others, well pretty soon the numbers are not that small anymore.

If these laws when strictly interpreted are creating an unreasonable burden, the problem then is not the enforcement action, it’s the way the law itself is written and that is what should be changed. This is precisely what is so wrong with the regulatory environment in California, very little is done to correct what is known to be wrong.

The case of San Francisco and Twitter is a great example, the Mayor says that the law empowering the city to tax stock options has never been enforced and he “can’t imagine a scenario where it would be enforced”… then why have the law at all!

San Francisco would rather retain a law that has not nor will be enforced and risk losing the jobs that Twitter creates, rather than just erasing a bad law from the books and removing the uncertainty for all businesses.