Let’s start with a definition of crowd work. This is a form of employment in which clients (crowd sourcers) use an online platform to outsource tasks to registered members. In recent years, crowd work has grown significantly. In “The Global Opportunity in Online Outsourcing”, the World Bank states that by 2020 crowd work will reach a turnover of 25 billion dollars. There are 2,300 online crowdsourcing platforms operating on a global scale. Among these, the most famous are the American Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT), Top Coder and Upwork, the Australian Freelancer.com, and the German Twago. More figures: in 2015, AMT recorded 500,000 members coming from 190 different countries, Top Coder 753,911, Upwork 8 million from 180 nations, Freelancer 14.5 million with 7.5 million projects, and Twago 263,715 members with 66,683 projects. Crowd sourcers include important names such as Google, Intel, Facebook, AOL, NSA, Telekom, Honda, Panasonic, Microsoft, NBC, Walt Disney and Unilever. What about Italy? “At the moment we are still lagging behind, but given these numbers it is not difficult to foresee that soon the crowd economy will carve out a space for itself here too.” That, at least, is the opinion of the labour law expert Ciro Cafiero, one of Italy’s greatest experts in this field.
At the moment, however, we are more concerned with the gig economy, referred to as "small jobs online”, than crowd work. What is the difference?
Let us start with the most evident analogy: both models are based on a technology platform that, in some ways, may be considered the "employer”. This gives rise to a so-called “greyhound race”, with workers competing to complete the job in the shortest time possible in order to earn credits on the platform. This results in a sort of “disintermediation” of the labour market, both vertically (no employment contracts) and horizontally (no solidarity). In Italy – just think of Foodora or Uber – this business model is used almost exclusively for the transportation of food or people, and the suppliers are often not in education, employment or training (NEET). Abroad this is not so, and here lies the difference.
In Italy, the crowd work business model is used almost exclusively for the transportation of food or people.
In what way?
Foreign crowd work platforms require different, more complex services and skills, such as the production of newspaper articles, videos, musical tracks, proofreading and so on.
What makes you believe that Italy can soon catch up with other countries?
There are basically two reasons. Firstly, there is the growth registered by the crowd economy in the driving countries. I can't see why Italy should not be capable of achieving the same performance. Secondly, it is a model that fits in perfectly with the new millennials. This is a generation that struggles to think of work as stable employment, to be carried out in the same way, in the same space and in a set time. Above all, millennials consider use of technology and the internet an essential part of their employment. Moreover, their level of English is much higher than that of previous generations, enabling them to communicate with the rest of the world.
Crowd work could be the key to reviving the most depressed areas of our country, and indeed of the entire planet.
How might this model develop in Italy in the coming years?
Let me make a concrete example. Let's assume that an American company makes use of an American platform to request the supply of a typically southern Italian product: buffalo mozzarella from Caserta, for example, or an artefact from Calabria. If this request were intercepted by a group of young people from Caserta or Calabria, a virtual highway would be created, bringing Italy's products onto the international markets. In some ways, this inverts the delocalisation trend, according to which production and marketing should be rooted in the territory of origin. I think that, in the future, there will be more and more cases like this one. If we widen our horizons, crowd work could become the very key to reviving the most depressed areas of our country, and indeed of the entire planet.