Bitcoin Micropayments are Creating a Global Labor Market

Mechanical Turk (Mturk) is a global labor market which matches people looking for work with people who need labor. Each task pays anywhere from $0.01 to $100 and includes things like sorting photographs, answering survey questions, and organizing data. Anyone with an internet-connected mobile phone can participate in the Mturk economy, and given that India just became the second largest smartphone market in the world and has a number of proficient English speakers, Mturk has taken off there. But there's one massive complication: all payments occur in Amazon points, which are redeemable only through purchases on

Most Mturk workers stemming from India are under 35 and live in households which earn under $15k per year. These Mturk laborers are earning Amazon points and need Indian rupees - they're not exactly in an economic position to go 1-click shopping on Amazon, and many do not have bank accounts. So how do they cash out? In two really inconvenient ways. In the first method, they can buy something with relatively sticky value, like say an Ipad. They ship it to themselves and then resell it online for (nearly) the amount they bought it. They end up paying international shipping twice and lose a cut on the resell value. Plus they need to cash out in lump sums, saving up $100-$1000 in Amazon points at a time.

The second method is more complicated but saves them more money. They use a service like - which allows them to purchase goods on Amazon for westerners, in exchange for bitcoin. This way they don't have to worry about international shipping and reselling - they ship the item straight to someone who wants to pay in bitcoin. The western buyer is incentivized to pay in bitcoin because of discounts on goods Purse offers. From there the person in India cashes out the bitcoin for rupees, ostensibly through Local Bitcoins. So the person in India still has to give out a pretty decent cut (first to Purse, and second when they get burned on the street bitcoin/rupee exchange rate). However the percentage they give up is still smaller than the cost of Ipad reshipping.

It's pretty amazing that Indians are using Mturk at all given how difficult it is to get paid. What if there was a Mturk-style labor market based entirely on bitcoin payments? This allows people to get paid on a daily basis instead of in lump sums (once the lightning network is live, they'll get paid on a job-by-job penny-by-penny basis), and their only fee is on the street exchange rate to rupees. Not only would this solve a big problem for the Mturk laborers in India, but it would likely expand the number of total workers who use the service. (This effect is similar to the way that Uber hasn't just eaten the taxi industry's lunch, but actually vastly expanded the size of the taxi market because their product is so much simpler to use.) 

A couple cool projects working on a bitcoin-based Mturk are Jeff Garzik's implementation for the 21 computer, and the Rein Project. There is potential here to build a global work & labor market over the internet that is facilitated through bitcoin and much, much larger than Mechanical Turk is today.