mj1.at Michael Jaros' Techblog


Help from the couch as a microvolunteer

Posted by mj


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 []

Looking into the future with prediction markets

Posted by mj

Decision events of common interest such as elections or contests are often preceded by measures to predict their outcome. Conventional measures include polls and interviews. From a perspective of collective knowledge, the accuracy of such measures is naturally limited, because the opinions of insiders have the same weight as the opinions of clueless individuals.

Prediction markets1 are a way to map the probability of an event to the price of a market share by allowing participants to bet on or against the event and aggregating their opinions. The advantage of this method emerges from a self-controlling mechanism of the market's participants: Insiders will place a much higher bet than individuals with little knowledge about the event2. Prediction markets thus draw much of their accuracy from insider trading, a behavior that is frowned upon or even prosecuted on many other markets. Participants generally have a motivation to get more information and thus increase their predictions' accuracy.

Prediction markets have not always been able to beat other methods' accuracy3, but their predictions are considered better than that of "almost any of the individual participants in the market"4. However, prediction markets can suffer from problems known from traditional markets like market manipulation attempts and speculative bubbles. While prediction markets based on real currency are not legal in many parts of the world, real money (or real risk) is considered a key ingredient to their accuracy. Therefore many of the existing initiatives use virtual money combined with prizes for well-performing participants.

Early examples of successful prediction markets are the Iowa Electronic Markets5 and markets used internally by well-known corporations such as Hewlett-Packard and Intel for sales- and production-related predictions.

  1. Wikipedia: Prediction Market []
  2. Howe (2008): Crowdsourcing: - Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business []
  3. Graefe et al. (2011): Comparing face-to-face meetings, nominal groups, delphi, and prediction markets on an estimation task []
  4. Hubbard (2010): How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business, Second Edition, Chapter 13 []
  5. Iowa Electronic Markets (IEM) []