This is a collaborative image, the brown and tan paper in this collage made by bald-faced hornets. Work done by a hive of creatures was in my mind as I started to write this post.
Working for Leapforce
Now that I’m pretty much done with Leapforce (though I still have log-in privileges there, as I write) I figure I’ll add my voice to the reviews that tell how it is to work as a Search Engine Evaluator.
Leapforce handles low-level contracted personnel for Google, hiring people for one of the New Economy’s jobs: six months commitment at a time (unless you screw up somehow, and then they can just shut you out); no benefits no matter how many hours you work because you’re technically an independent contractor. No payment for the hours you spend training (and these are ongoing and considerable). No guarantee of available work. Unpredictable “caps” on how many hours in a day you can work, triggered by unknown actions and lasting for undefined numbers of days – although Leapforce steadfastly refuses to acknowledge the existence of these caps.
And yet… when the wolf is at the door, working for Leapforce is a huge boon. I earned more than half my living with them for about nine months, and during those months I was desperately grateful for the opportunity. But then, desperate gratitude is what Leapforce has going for them, as they freely make use of the crowds of underemployed people out there with internet connections.
I won’t go into the details of the actual work, since I don’t want lawyers breathing down my neck about non-disclosure agreements I signed. Google is extremely protective of what goes into refining their search algorithms. What Google does explain publicly is that search evaluators look at two sets of search results side by side, and decide according to various criteria which side is better. One side you’re looking at will be the result of a new experimental algorithm that Google is testing out, and the other side is their older or existing algorithm. And then there are other tests you do as well, which aren’t side by side. Some are interesting, some are insanely dull. The tasks can take anywhere from 30 seconds to 15 minutes each to complete. There are results which include only words, and others which include images or video or book excerpts or even sound files.
A big part of the job is deciding on the quality of websites, according to various criteria. And, another big part of the job is the quality of the ratings that you do. After being told that your input is valuable partly because you represent the typical user, your evaluation of pages and search results is calibrated endlessly by (unpaid) training guidelines to study, quizzes to take, and practice tasks to do. Seriously, when you first begin the work, your work sessions are probably 75% unpaid because the learning curve is steep. If you fall short in some invisible way, you get icky little notes in your email from Leapforce, suggesting that you’d better shape up or you won’t have a job pretty soon.
Raw payrate is $13.50 an hour, although as an independent contractor you have to take out the 15.3% payroll tax, plus any income tax you might owe additionally. It’s kind of horrifying, how much you have to skim off for taxes when you’re just a lowly peon and not some clever entity like an S corporation.
But the hourly rate is deceptive. You’re actually paid per task, and you’re only allowed a certain number of minutes per task. If they think it should take you four minutes to do a task, and it actually takes you ten minutes, you can’t bill for more than four of those. On the other hand, if a task labeled as a four-minute task only takes you one minute, you have to kind of just sit around and let three more minutes pass. If you keep doing tasks faster than they think you should, you’ll be penalized by having work taken away from you.
A few privileged souls are “preferred agents,” paid (I think) $17 per hour, but there’s no particular hope of anyone ever being promoted to that status now. They were promoted back in the early days, it seems, when money flowed easily and the world was young.
Part 2 of this blog post is here.