An Economic View of Crowdsourcing and Online Labor Markets

25 Oct
Monday, 10/25/2010 11:30am to 12:30pm

John Horton
Harvard University

Computer Science Building, Room 142

Faculty Host: Hanna Wallach

The emergence of online labor markets promises to make other parts of economics---namely labor economics and behavioral economics---relevant to computer science. In this talk, I will describe the key questions, research methods and results from labor and behavioral economics and the ways I think they apply to online work settings. I will then present some of my own work on labor supply, job search and the determinants of productivity. I will also discuss the role that online labor markets could play as a tool for economic development. Online work can help people in developing countries gain access to first world labor markets, but there are number of challenges---technical, managerial, ethical and political---that could hinder wide-spread adoption. I believe that computer scientists are well-suited to solve some of these challenges. I will conclude by suggesting a research agenda for computer scientists interested in the economic aspects of crowdsourcing/human computation/Games-with-a-purpose.


John Horton is a fifth-year doctoral student in the Public Policy PhD program at the Harvard Kennedy School. He is a graduate associate at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science and holds a B.S. in Mathematics from the United States Military Academy at West Point.

John's research focuses on labor economics, organizational economics and decision-making. He is particularly interested in understanding the implications of online labor markets. In these markets, people from around the world perform tasks amenable to remote completion, such as computer programming, design, customer service support and clerical work. Through such markets, the geographic and national constraints of traditional labor markets are disappearing, allowing a kind of virtual "immigration." The markets have great potential to alleviate poverty, but may also exacerbate inequality. In making the traditional employer-employee relationship more transitory, the markets also raise a variety of social policy issues.