A small research team from the Oxford Internet Institute has recently issued a report based on a three year investigation into the worldwide geographies of the so-called Gig-Economy, online work which allows many talented people in the low and middle income countries of the world to compete on a global stage. From the Executive Summary:
Online gig work is becoming increasingly important to workers living in low- and middle-income countries. Our multi-year and multi-method research project shows that online gig work brings about rewards such as potential higher incomes and increased worker autonomy, but also risks such as social isolation, lack of work–life balance, discrimination, and predatory intermediaries. We also note that online gig work platforms mostly operate outside regulatory and normative frameworks that could benefit workers.
One of the eye-catching and very information rich visualizations comes from a related Blog post by the “Connectivity, Inclusion, and Inequality Group” called “Uneven Geographies of Digital Wages“.
The cartogram depicts each country as a circle and sizes each country according to dollar inflow to each country during March 2013 (on the freelance work oDesk.com platform, rebranded in 2015 to Upwork). The shading of the inner circle indicates the median hourly rate published by digital workers in that country. The graphic broadly reveals that median wages are, perhaps unsurprisingly low in developing countries and are significantly higher in wealthier countries.
Another Blog post on the geographies of online work adds several more visualizations (based on 2013 data, so a bit dated by now). For instance, one world map highlights the relationship between supply and demand. It distinguishes between countries with a positive balance of payment (i.e. countries in which more work is sold than bought) and countries with a negative balance of payment (countries in which more work is bought than is sold). The figure more clearly delineates the geography of supply and demand: with much of the world’s demand coming from only a few places in the Global North.
Another very interesting and dense visualization is a connectogram (see our previous post on Connectograms and the Circos tool) demonstrating the highly international trade in the online Gig-Economy: 89% of the trade measured by value happened between a client and a contractor who are in different countries. The network therefore attempts to illustrate the entirety of those international flows in one graph. It depicts countries as nodes (i.e. circles) and volumes of transactions between buyers and sellers in those countries as edges (i.e. the lines connecting countries). Country nodes are shaded according to the world region that they are in and sized according to the number of buyer transactions originating in them. Edges are coloured according to the flow of services: with the line shaded as the colour of the originating/selling region. Edges are also weighted according to the total volume of trade.
We see not just a complex many-to-many relationship of international trade, but also the large role that a few geographic relationships take (in particular, India and the Philippines selling to the United States).
Back to the Executive Summary of the above report:
The report’s central question is whether online gig work has any development potentials at the world’s economic margins. Its motive is to help platform operators to improve their positive impact, to help workers to take action to improve their situations, and to prompt policy makers and stakeholders interested in online gig work to revisit regulation as it applies to workers, clients, and platforms in their respective countries.
It is interesting to see these marketplaces evolve, in terms of the international, distributed nature, issues such as taxation, intermediation, opportunities and risks. There are also entirely new forms of social networks forming, based on blockchain powered token systems convertible into crypto-currencies (such as Steem). The core concept here is to eliminate not just geographical distance, but also risks from exchange rate fluctuations and predatory intermediaries. It remains to be seen to what degree this can act as a counterweight to technology-induced increasing inequality.