With work shuttered, some have found a new way to make money: Internet odd jobs

Minutes after Kara Jones wakes up, she’s stuck to her desktop computer, filling out surveys or interviewing her about website design. After the baby sleeps for the night, she takes out her phone and sends the video to a market research firm.

Jones’ free time is hardly ever discussed or thoroughly analyzed in a detailed spreadsheet as you keep track of dozens of side activity websites.

“I’m going to be applying for a huge number of assignments in a week which I really enjoy. Before I knew it, my entire week, every available minute, was being spent on paid lessons.” He says he uses a spreadsheet to keep a record of which sites offer the “highest ROI,” or ROI.

Jones, 35, was laid off in May and quickly began spending hours every day searching websites for ways to raise a few dollars at a time by giving his opinion on products, participating in studies, and providing feedback on how to improve products like smart TV apps. that you use. She and her husband.

They are part of a virtually invisible and growing community of online surveyors, opinion providers, and product samplers who have found a way to make a living through online work.

What is once again a hobby that generates extra cash to spend, has for some people become a major source of income during the recession and coronavirus pandemic.

Call it virtual jobs, on-demand jobs, one-on-one online jobs, or side businesses: it’s a reshaping of the way some Americans are employed as more and more lives move online — and as more and more technology companies emulate Airbnb’s business model and who mostly unregulated. Uber made a huge platform, pairing people trying to make a few bucks with those looking to hire them.

Photo: Kara Jones at her home in Seuss Falls, S.D. (Jay Becktheron/for NBC News)
This has an undeniable positive side during the pandemic. Working from home is accessible, although participants said it can be bleak at times and is accompanied by a series of complexities that underscore inequality in America: low wages, intense competition, and a maze of unknown applications that require people to develop complex strategies to survive. . . their time to the maximum.

Increasingly, there is a hierarchy of applications, with the most profitable applications approaching full-time payroll and orders. The selection process can be rigorous, with live video chat to screen potential topics.

Denial is a way of life, with corporate researchers often looking for certain traits, or looking for things like age, location, medical condition, or income.

“Sometimes, if you’re on a very low income, they won’t vote for you,” says Becky Robinson, who has relied on income from online market research since she was laid off from two part-time jobs in southeastern Pennsylvania. .

Invisible workforce

The world of online work is very wide. From sites like Mechanical Turk, where people can perform grunt “micro-tasks” for money, to obscure shopping deals, application testing, transcription services, ESL teaching sites, and services that pay to participate in academic studies, often to psychologist or other sociologist.

said Mary Gray, Principal Investigator at Microsoft Research and faculty member at Indiana University.

“Economists have no way of measuring the world that’s not like a factory floor,” Gray said.

There are dozens of companies behind this service, most of which are obscure except for the people who spend hours on it. Making money means rearranging platforms and tasks to focus and be on the lookout for potential scammers.

They have a thriving business group to draw from. The unemployment rate has been rising since the pandemic began gripping the economy in February and March. The unemployment rate was 10.2 percent in July, down from its peak but still showing that 1 in 10 people in the labor force cannot find work. Some temporary job workers, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, are among those affected, and some are seeking unemployment benefits.

This has led people to look for new ways to earn income. But working online is not as easy as registering and clicking. It can be difficult to get information about the different services, so communities are popping up on social media and elsewhere for newcomers and veterans to share tips.

In January, just before the pandemic, a teenager posted a video on TikTok saying he made over $900 onDscout, a market research and survey service, and encourage others to download the app. The video went viral, garnering nearly 400,000 favorites on TikTok, and Dscout says it saw a spike in interest.

Reddit’s r/beermoney community features regular revenue reports from users who are keen to increase their revenue, as well as warnings about the site not being worth the time. One person said they spent time on more than 30 sites and earned $1,700 in five weeks, even after what they described as time lost on a coupon site.

“Part of the job is finding work,” says Miriam Sherry, a law professor at Saint Louis University who has studied virtual work and has written a book on the topic.

“The more people visit those sites, the bigger the competition,” he said. For this reason, detailed planning makes sense. “You have to be very smart to outperform 300 other people around the world,” he said.


Jones conducted an online survey in pre-college, and returned to it in May. laid off from her job as a purchasing manager at a company in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, she researched and strategized for the websites that offered the best opportunities.

“During those two weeks, I did nothing but research these things,” he said. Since then, he’s found another full-time job, but he still spends his mornings and evenings online to replenish his family’s rainy day fund.

He says he spends 15 to 20 hours a week just searching, looking for three new sites a week. “Every day I edit this list,” he said. And then you spend eight hours a week on actual work.

Jones also started posting videos on YouTube with tips, hoping to build a following there and on other social media sites as more people make money online.

Almost like a video game, the bustling website guides people through the different levels, with the rewards usually coming at the end. There is a preliminary screening test. Then there are applications for specific studies or ‘missions’. And finally the task itself.

And even in every stage, there are flaws. Research companies bomb some of their projects with “attention checks” to catch people speeding without reading them carefully.

The potential rewards are not strictly monetary, as is the case with any job. Robinson says market research provides some sort of reassurance that the opinions of people like hers matter.

“Something where you can influence a brand or product, that’s great, and you feel like the people you’re meeting are really listening to you. It makes you feel important,” she says.

Photo: (Hana Yeon/for NBC News)
The most profitable surveys offer up to $200 and may take a lot of time, asking people to submit photos and videos from their homes. Others take a few minutes and pay much less.

There is little public data on median wages for working online, but a 2018 study from the United Nations International Labor Organization found that on the Mechanical Turk service, which is owned by Amazon, the median wage was $5.63 per hour. That’s less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

Despite Robinson’s disability, he had two part-time jobs until the coronavirus pandemic shut down large parts of the economy: one at a museum and the other at a craft retail store. He was dismissed from both.

But the cost of daily living continues to pile up. A Volkswagen Jetta needs repair, the dishwasher is broken, and requires some fillings from the dentist for $120.

He relied on unemployment insurance for a while, but his $600-a-week federal bonus expired, and he said his state cut his regular insurance – for reasons he didn’t understand, because he couldn’t contact anyone. .

These days, some of the only money he makes is from surveys, and he finds himself doing a lot of things.

“It’s not the best way to live,” he said, “but I don’t know—it’s helping, not hard work.” She says she tries to make as many jobs available online as possible, “because I feel I’m going to need them.”

“Beauty of Noise”

Dscout, one of the research apps, says it has seen a spike in people polling and from the other side: company researchers want to see how consumer needs change during the pandemic.

Dscout and other apps often include live video chat, so researchers can view or view the living spaces of people using the product in context — a cost of privacy for participants, but perhaps at a higher cost. company sayshas 100,000 regular participants, or “scouts”.

“Now is probably the best time to research, because you need to understand what people are going through,” said Abby Hunt, a spokeswoman for Dscout.

The need to submit videos means that survey applicants sometimes need to dress up or at least do something to make a good impression on researchers. Pajama frowned.

Photo: (Hana Yeon/for NBC News)
“You definitely need to be a unified person who can express their ideas,” says Vince Major, a Los Angeles-based actor who conducts surveys and experiments with product prototypes in his spare time. Among the latest products that he reviewed are: Running Mask.

The mayor said he monitored services he believed were exploitative and paid them the equivalent of an additional 30 minutes of work change. Some competitiveness emerges, he says, when he sees a task he really wants to do, almost like a video game.

“Something in my World of Warcraft brain was ‘Yeah, do this quest!'” he said. ”

On the other hand, Jones says there’s also something about being low-stress compared to working in an office environment.

“The beauty of the crowd,” he said, “is that you win as hard as you want to try.” “If you don’t want to try for a few days, don’t. No one is breathing through your neck. You won’t be fired if you don’t show up for a few days.”

It also means that virtual work is missing one of the hallmarks of modern professions: the ladder, or the opportunity to someday advance.

In many ways, virtual workers are still under the burden and appeal of online platforms. Employers often require unpaid labor to apply for paid jobs: “requests” to take surveys. They classify jobs that workers have without an appeals system and can withhold pay with minor improvements.

Sherry from the University of St. Louis said he would like to see more equality for remote workers in terms of protection or pay increases. He said it echoed discussions he had with Uber and Lyft in California and elsewhere: Where is the line between contractors and employees?

“It’s not that this isn’t closely monitored. It’s the other way around. There’s a lot of scrutiny,” Cherry said of virtual workers. “How is it different from working for a remote company? It’s not. It’s the exact same thing.”