InfoDev, a “technology and innovation-led development finance program” within the World Bank recently released this report on the Virtual Economy and its impact (and potential) for the developing world.
The report looks at how several examples of how people in the developing world are earning a living providing services to the virtual economy. Such services include creating and selling virtual goods within MMORGs such as World of Warcraft or playing such games on behalf of wealthy players; performing micro-work tasks such as transcribing hand-written text, sorting images or categorising products for retail websites, or even gaming sites like Facebook to increase the Like ratings of certain pages. One of the first, and better known markets for micro-work, is Amazon’s crowd-sourcing site, Mechanical Turk (“Artificial artificial intelligence”).
One interesting nugget is that, whilst the global coffee market is worth some $70 billion, only $5.5 billion of that is captured by developing countries. By comparison, nearly all of the $3.0 billion market in third-party gaming services remains in developing countries. The report highlights how technology has enabled a global market in such services and makes fascinating reading. However, the conclusion seems to be that the potential for such services – particularly at an individual level – is likely to remain limited, as technology develops to further automate such micro-work tasks as image sorting and, of course, given the potentially large supply of labour to supply such services. Nonetheless, an interesting read and an interesting example of global freelancing.