mj1.at Michael Jaros' Techblog


Help from the couch as a microvolunteer


Many noble-minded people volunteer to aid their fellow human beings. Voluntary work can be a time-consuming matter. According to an Austrian study1, voluntary work on average consumes between about 2 to 6 hours per week, depending on the field of work (where social services tend to be more time-consuming than for example religious activities). The authors found that about half of the Austrian population had done voluntary work in the last few months before the survey, and that there was a downwards trend in the number of volunteers over the past two decades.

The term microvolunteering suggests the possibility of conveniently "ad-hoc" helping from home in tiny bits, whenever the you have a few minutes to spare. I have had a look at several microvolunteering websites (sparked.com, helpfromhome.org, zivicloud, ...), to check which projects can be supported there and what work needs to be done. The larger sites break down available tasks based on the volunteer's interests and skills. Many new smaller projects use the open-source software tasket to organize their tasks.

A little research on these websites suggests classifying available jobs into the following categories:

  • Many jobs are clicktivism tasks for social networks, asking volunteers to like certain content, post status messages, make a certain amount of friends etc. While these jobs are microtasks as far as the amount of time taken is concerned, they often consist of manipulating social networks or spamming their members.
  • Many of the jobs are not "micro" at all. Creating a new design for a website or coming up with completely new ideas for a business can consume days.
  • There is a great number of tasks that will probably take a few hours (like creating a logo, fixing errors on a web page).
  • Finally, there are some real microtasks that require just a little creativity like creating a name for a kindergarten group, or rating other volunteers' work.

If you do not like to do any work at all yourself, you can still have your computer help others:
Volunteer computing donates your unused computing power to causes of your choice.

  1. Badelt and Hollerweger (2001): Das Volumen ehrenamtlicher Arbeit in Österreich []

Posted by mj

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