Even the Economist is commenting on the emerging “virtual” economy which is facilitated by the diffusion of Internet access and all the platforms and virtual worlds that provides a global collaboration framework.
It is important to note that this is still in a rather early phase and I would think that we are just entering the first rapid increase of a hype curve. This means that the visions and promises will most likely crash soon. The phenomenon will however not die but pick up in it’s own natural growth pace and most likely become a major disruptive economical phenomenon.
According to the World Bank’s research, gaming-for-hire services alone—such as earning WoW gold to sell on to rich, busy foreigners—was a market worth $3 billion in 2009. As a comparison, the study notes that all the coffee growers in the developing world combined earned just $5.5 billion for their labours. Another growing source of cyberwork is crowdsourcing: for instance, Amazon farmed out the job of eliminating duplicate pages on its e-commerce site to large numbers of casual workers, who got paid a few cents each time they spotted one.
This has developed into a new line of business for Amazon, called Mechanical Turk, which brings together people seeking online piecework with employers looking to farm out tasks. The infoDev report reckons there are now around 100 such online labour exchanges: there’s now a word for them in Chinese, witkey. Some crowdsourced tasks are long and complex, and require special skills. But many are simple and quick, and the software tools needed to perform them are provided for the worker—this sort of task is known as “microwork”.