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Study explores the new world of microvolunteering

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Study explores the new world of microvolunteering

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Platforms such as Mechanical Turk have made the notion of microtasking much more mainstream, with thousands of users willingly undertaking small tasks that collectively provide value to organizations.

A recent study from Carnegie Mellon explores how such microtasking can be used for social good, such as offering help to people with disabilities.

The research focused its attention on two recent trends in the field:

  • friendsourcing, which is when friends request small amounts of work from their network (usually performed online)
  • microvolunteering, which is similar to regular volunteering but on a microscale, so the recipient is usually a charity

The researchers proposed a combination of each approach, which they refer to as social microvolunteering.  This supposes that a willing volunteer provides access to their social network to charities and causes they care about.

Participants were requested to complete an online survey to better understand their attitudes towards this approach, after which they were given the option of installing an app called Visual Answers.  The app would occasionally post up questions onto their Facebook feed over a 12 day period.

The questions themselves came from visually impaired folks who were seeking some help navigating their environment.  For instance, a photo of a box of crackers might have been accompanied by a question asking what was in the box.

The authors were hoping to understand the kind of responses they received, how long it took to receive them, and whether the answers were serious ones or not.

A follow up survey was then conducted with users to gage how they felt about the whole thing.  The general feeling was a positive one towards the app, with most questions receiving a swift and accurate response.

Most friends in the study regarded the questions as fine, and responded to them in a helpful way rather than being annoyed by them.

The results suggest that such social microvolunteering may be a feasible concept, and the researchers plan to test the concept further on other social networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter.

“While developing the idea of social microvolunteering, we sometimes referred to it as ‘donating your friends,’ which is kind of what it is,” they say. “Even if you don’t have money to donate and can’t be there whenever a blind person needs an answer to a question, you can give something potentially much more valuable—access to your social network and social capital to encourage your friends to help in causes you care about.”

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