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A Crowdsourcing Bill of Rights

by April 29, 2011

bill-of-rights-300x214_0I just listened to an excellent podcast by David Alan Grier on The Daily Crowdsource, focused on the rights of crowdsourced workers. Grier defined four broad classes of crowdsourced workers–the microlabor, partial employment, contest and public opinion worker.

We at Dialogue Earth are extremely interested in this topic, as crowdsourcing is core to our strategy, both in the way we analyze social media, and in how we produce media content to engage diverse audiences. It is critical to us that we achieve high quality, efficient work and, more importantly, that our crowdsourced workforce is treated fairly. Heck, we’d like them to feel as great about this work we do.

Grier suggests that, if crowdsourcing is to mature as an industry, it is essential that its leaders work together to develop what is, essentially a worker’s bill of rights.  Some of the rights he suggests include the right to be paid on time, to have a sense of the purpose of the work, and to understand if one is doing good or evil.

In terms of “contest workers,” Grier suggests that an important right is to know that there is only one winner, and therefore only one worker will be compensated.  This struck a nerve with me, not because I disagree with Grier, but because I truly do not like the idea of hundreds of video creators competing for just one measly Dialogue Earth prize. Rather, we at Dialogue Earth want to develop a compensation system where, for each contest, numerous creators can be awarded for their work.

In our first two Dialogue Earth video projects, we awarded multiple winners.  In our first competition, we awarded six creators prize money for their videos about ocean acidification.  For our most recent pilot, focused on energy basics, we also awarded six winners. Plus, both contests included a number of winners in the concept phase.

As we plan our upcoming, yearlong Dialogue Earth Media Challenge, we plan to award up to 10 video creators for each of 10 competitions.  Ultimately, however, we’d like to devise a system that allows us to award anyone who meets our criteria for a “winning” video–chiefly that the video is factually correct, engaging, and non-advocacy.

I believe that David Alan Grier is right on point with his commentary.  If the crowdsourcing industry is to truly flourish, it needs to ensure the rights of its workers.  Dialogue Earth hopes to be included among the industry leaders who influence this progress.

2 Responses

  1. May 03, 2011

    Tom, as you know that is the fundamental idea behind our Curated Crowdsourcing model at GeniusRocket. After years of using a Spec Work model, we evolved to a No-Spec process for vetted artists. I can appreciate both sides of the discussion. This is not meant to judge Spec Work, I truly believe Spec Work (or as we call it Open Crowdsourcing) is an understandable way for many amateurs to build out their demo reels and portfolios. Sometimes great work can emerge from that model, yet sometimes customers strike out.

    I agree that paying more people for their work is the best direction. However there is still an inherent problem with the common tiered award system found on many crowdsourcing platforms. If one person is being awarded $5000, a valuable award, yet the next is getting $500, a less than valuable award, but the client get equal ownership of both, the creative teams are in an unsustainable situation. Talented artists are going to move on if they continue to get $500 for $2000 worth of work. Great if you are one of the early clients to use the community, but tough if the 1000 best artists have processed through before you get there.

    As long as you are asking a large number of filmmakers to work on Spec, there better be a worthy award on the other side of the equation. Doritos is a perfect example. A number of incredibly talented film makers participated in that campaign, and thousands of amateurs. Why? Because over a million dollars, a national ad campaign, and more press than you can imagine was at the other end of the equation. If you don’t provide a pretty substantial incentive you may be gambling with the outcome.

    Ok, so here is the small bit of a pitch for us, but its relevant. GeniusRocket does two things to live up to the yet to be created Bill of Rights. First, creative teams pitch their idea to the client that only they and the client can see this allows them to retain the rights to this content. Second, because clients now have the ability give feedback and select only the ideas they are interested in, it is only fair to pay those artists equally for the purchased ideas. This form of payment continues into the production round as well. Once you have narrowed down the idea to go into production you can pay that for their production based upon your feedback. Simply select the ideas that you want to move into production and pay the artists equally for their efforts. The model works. Since we fully moved over to Curated Crowdsourcing we have a 100% satisfaction rate, and have paid clients near a quarter of a million dollars in just five months. We expect those awards to double in the next three months.

    Ok, that is the rah-rah for GeniusRocket. My point is that while a Bill of Rights is a great idea, its really up to the companies to evolve to a fair model. Keep in mind there will always be amateur filmmakers who are willing to work on Spec, but I personally believe that most clients would rather not gamble of getting content they can use.


    • Tom Masterman
      May 04, 2011

      Hi Peter,

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. You bring up some very good points. My colleague, Kent, has been writing a series of posts to chronicle our evolving thoughts on the topic of crowdsourcing. His latest post takes a step back to discuss why we are currently compelled to partner with crowdsourced storytellers, and what we believe success will look like for both Dialogue Earth, and content creators. Let us know what you think!


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