From mystery shopping to furniture assembly, apps such as TaskRabbit and Gigwalk leverage the power of distributed, mobile workers who complete physical world tasks instantly and beyond the constraints of traditional office workspaces. We refer to these workers as the “on-demand mobile workforce.” Mobile workforce services allow task requesters to “crowdsource” tasks in the physical world and aim to disrupt the very nature of employment and work (for good and bad; this may be a matter for another post).
Our paper describes an on-demand workforce service categorization based on two dimensions: (1) task location and (2) task complexity (see figure below). Based on marketplace reviews, user testimonies, and informal observations of the services, we placed four main workforce services into the quadrants to exemplify the categorization.
Although a long line of research on incentives and motivations for crowdsourcing exists, especially on platforms like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, there hasn’t been much work on physical crowdsourcing, despite the recent appearance of many such platforms. We conducted interviews (see the paper here to learn more about the complete methods and findings) of mobile workforce members to learn more about the extrinsic and intrinsic factors that influence the selection and completion of physical world tasks.
To mention a couple of findings, we found certain task characteristics were highly important to workers as they select and accept tasks:
Knowing the person
Because physical world tasks introduce a different set of personal risks compared to virtual world tasks (e.g., physical harm, deception), workers creatively investigated requesters and scrutinized profile photos, email addresses, and task descriptions. Tasks with profile photos helped workers know who to expect on-site and email addresses were used to cross-reference information on social networking sites.
Knowing the “story”
Tasks that listed intended purposes or background stories of the tasks appealed to the mobile workforce. Tasks for an anniversary surprise or to verify the conditions of a grave plot through a photo affected workers’ opinions and influenced future task selections. Workers also appreciated non-financial incentives of unique experiences that occurred as byproducts of task completion (e.g., meeting new people). Tasks with questionable, unethical intentions (e.g., mailing in old phones, posting fake reviews online, writing student papers) were less likely to be fulfilled.
Generally, this study has broader implications for the design of effective, practical, novel and well-reasoned social and technical crowdsourcing applications that organize help and support in the physical world. Particularly, we hope our findings inform future development of mobile workforce services that are not strictly monetary.
Want to learn more? Check out our full paper here at CSCW 2014.