User-provided Labor on Web 2.0

Putting the cart in front of the horse, I’m starting to think about my post-dissertation research which will focus on the value & ethical implications of the emerging Web 2.0 infrastructure. One issue that seems to frequently emerge is the contribution of labor by the millions of Web 2.0 netizens, benefiting not only the larger social network, but also the corporations who have built their business model around the Web 2.0 phenomena.

The most recent example is Google’s Image Labeler “game” that invites users to help label images in Google’s index:

You’ll be randomly paired with a partner who’s online and using the feature. Over a 90-second period, you and your partner will be shown the same set of images and asked to provide as many labels as possible to describe each image you see. When your label matches your partner’s label, you’ll earn some points and move on to the next image until time runs out. After time expires, you can explore the images you’ve seen and the websites where those images were found. And we’ll show you the points you’ve earned throughout the session.

This is a very creative means to using folksonomies to add structure to their image database, and help avoid some of the inevitable noise in many social-tagging systems. But it is also important to explore what it means to have an army of volunteers providing this kind of labor. Is providing labor for Google’s index different that users collectively labeling their bookmarks in Should users be compensated somehow for their work?

A required starting point for such questions is Yochai Benkler‘s The Wealth of Networks.


  1. Very interesting subject. I’m finishing my masters thesis right now about and one of the principal things I’m thinking about is the question of exploitation. There’s the issue of who benefits monetarily – but also general privacy concerns, which have preoccupied me more as of late.

    I think the “game” you describe is different than many web 2.0 sites where the users are gaining something for themselves as well – storage space, various features.

  2. The trouble with tagging is you are hardly going to get much glory or user attention for having tagged the most or tagged the best. Seems to me Amazon has the right idea with its ‘mechanical turk’ – provide a way to pay people to do this kind of thing

  3. @ Ericka – I’d be interested in seeing your thesis when completed – excellent topic.

    @ David – I’ll have to talk a closer look at Amazon’s ‘mechanical turk’; what are the economics?

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