Virtual Pay For Real Work

Amanda Dorsey has spent dozens of hours categorizing search results on eBay, verifying search-engine links and doing other online jobs for CrowdFlower Inc., a San Francisco employment agency.

According to a story in Bloomberg Businessweek, Dorsey doesn’t get paid in legal tender. She takes her wages in the form of virtual money, which she’s used to buy a gray winter coat and a sexy yellow doctor’s uniform for her avatar, or virtual self, on, a chat and game site.

There’s nothing odd about it, says Dorsey, a 28-year-old unemployed writer and editor in Florida. “Doing work for virtual currency is pretty much like any other form of putting forth an effort for a reward,” she said.

Dorsey is one of about 100,000 people, or half the on-demand workforce at CrowdFlower, who have taken pay in virtual rather than real dollars, says Chief Executive Officer Lukas Biewald. Virtual cash can be used to buy seeds in FarmVille, weapons for Mafia Wars or goods used in other games on social-media sites like Facebook Inc. Consumers will spend $1.6 billion on virtual goods in the United States this year, double 2009’s tally, according to ThinkEquity LLC.

“It’s astonishing the surprising behavior these games have unearthed,” Michael Dortch, director of research at San Francisco technology consulting firm, said. “We have to stop differentiating between the virtual world and the real world. The virtual world is very real.”

CrowdFlower pays on a per-task basis, at a rate set by the companies that hire it to find workers. One client is PeopleBrowsr, a San Francisco consulting firm that monitors comments about brands on social networks such as Twitter Inc.

The site uses CrowdFlower to find workers to sift through as many as 40,000 tweets an hour and categorize each as positive, negative or neutral. Workers get about a penny per tweet, or the equivalent in digital currency, says PeopleBrowsr CEO Jodee Rich.

Photo by CrowdFlower.

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