Is the cloud the future of low-wage labor?

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Amazon is a leader in the cloud-computing world with a wide range of services from on-the-fly computing power to large scale data hosting to virtual network services hosting Amazon has built up a full service platform. A company can outsource the entirety of its IT infrastructure to the Amazon cloud, in theory. Full-time support staff is available as well to handle users or support questions, project development support or customer service.

The Internet is filled with companies offering these services and much more. It’s gotten so that an individual could create, staff and manage a small company with sales staff on the road, developers and management on the back end and tech support for staff and customers including full accounting and financial management from their bedroom. Amazon has pioneered a new level in this new world, cloud labor.

Digging In the Data Mines

Labor is traditionally seen as the manual labor that digs ditches, fills ditches in, or packs boxes, or the vast pool of unskilled labor that companies draw from to get work done. Amazon has created the Mechanical Turk, a name reminiscent of an 19th century chess playing robot that turned out to have a man inside, and this MT service is the epitome of that concept.

Amazon is offering the labor of hundreds, if not thousands of virtual workers, people to check database entries, sort and classify images, perform data entry, or any other Internet and data related tasks that need people to complete for very little pay, such as fractions of a cent per task. You define a task to be done and upload the data. You are charged per million Human Intelligence Tasks, also known as “HITs,’ and pay only for what you need much like hiring a company to dig a thousand ditches and paying per pound of dirt moved.

The human becomes non-existent in the equation. The Human is the invisible hand that does what cannot be automated. On the human end of the business what you are presented with is a list of tasks to do, the price per unit task, 2 – 10 cents per, on average, and the number tasks available. This trend has been getting stronger over the last few years. Virtual private secretaries, administrators, computer, and customer service support have all be offshored.

The new trend is for that off-shoring to go global offering the opportunity for Americans to earn as well, or anyone around the world on the Internet that can qualify and create a work account. The money earned is very small. Imagine doing any task, such as finding online reviews of business on Google and being paid 8 cents per.

Could you do 50 per hour? That would be $4 per hour. In many countries, half of that is a good wage. In the US it is too low to count, or is it? Many Americans are actively earning money on the Internet doing this and other little work. In spite of the low average wages, the lure of earning money from the Internet is too easy and too much of a temptation.

The End of Traditional Employment

People are paid to write computer programs and code on the Internet too with an average of about $10 per hour to start, with better money for those that contract directly. A freelance writer most likely wrote the article you just read talking about the future of wireless networking and home routers, and that freelancer was probably paid $5 or $10. The term “content mills” was coined to describe sites that offered the services of writers who are willing to bid on jobs, but end up making a penny or less per word.

This may not bode well for US workers and their future wage potential, but has revolutionized the global labor market. Companies have formed to aggregate the labor of dozens of third-world workers who haven’t the language or Internet skills to get started themselves but can be trained to do the task. While there are an increasing number of such companies and the money channeled is growing each year, the future has not been explored yet.

More and more of what is done can be outsourced in this way. People are paid to promote products on twitter or Facebook, answer questions and write blog entries. Higher wages are possible but require higher skill sets and a realization that the money will never be that great, 15 to 25 thousand per year is rare. The cloud is the future of more than just business computing, it may be the future of low-wage employment.


About the Author

Jon T. Norwood is a managing partner at High Speed Internet, a site dedicated to providing information on Internet Providers and Technology. Jon can be reached at