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by Elaine Schwartz    •    Nov 30, 2011    •    694 Views

One online inquiry resulted in a research scientist happily cleaning an overflowing compost bin for $31. Someone else fished keys out of a sewer.

Calling it “web-serfing,” the WSJ explains that “micro-labor” sites are matching requests for doing chores with people who want to do them. At online marketplaces, you just need to state your “micro-task.” The compost query was satisfied within 11 hours. The keys were retrieved much faster.

The Economic Lesson

“Manage our worm bin,” was all the woman looking for a compost cleaner had to post. An economist would say that she experienced minimal “search friction.”

Search friction was the focus of the 2010 economics Nobel Prize winners. Composed of transaction costs that involve multiple forms, countless phone calls and long distance communication, search friction can delay a match between the unemployed and a job opening. Similarly, potential mates in marriage markets and home sellers and buyers in housing markets might not find each other. By contrast, matches in online micro-job markets are relatively effortless.

An Economic Question: When someone receives $31 to do a job that might have been unpaid housework, how is the GDP affected?

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