Idea: I’ll pay you to answer this question…

Do you prefer red or blue?

You’ve probably already answered it in your head. Now would you share that answer with me if I offered you 1 cent? I’m guessing you would considering (a) you’re already here anyway, and (b) well, it’s an easy one – why not? During idle moments (like reading blogs) a person’s resistance to menial tasks are lowered because the mind is searching for something, anything interesting to lock on to.

Piggy bankHow much idleness do you experience in an average day? I’m not talking about the moments where you’re consciously choosing to relax, but the occasions where you’re forced to do nothing because you’re stuck on public transport or in a traffic jam, waiting for a doctor’s appointment, or any number of other things that tax our time and test our patience. What if you were given the opportunity during your idleness to perform some small, quick tasks in return for a small reward?

I believe there’s huge untapped potential here, which is the driving force behind this idea: harness the potential of people who are interested in being rewarded during idle moments for performing small, simple tasks.

In execution, the idea is to build a smartphone application whereby users get given basic tasks to perform: answer a survey question, vote on a poll, view an ad, play a short game, etc. for which they earn points. When enough points are accumulated these can then be redeemed for shopping vouchers.

How will this make money?
The business model behind this idea is the rapid accumulation of useful data. Core to the success of this venture will be the ability to package this up with analysis and insights, in a format that’s easy to digest. Potential clients are many and varied, from product designers looking to test new concepts, to political parties looking to gauge constituent sentiment on policy issues.

With a large member base, it also becomes possible to start selling advertising space directly to businesses instead of using a prepackaged service such as Apple iAd or Google Mobile Ads (although you could still use those as a springboard at the start).

Why smartphones?
Take a look around you. Do a quick poll of your friends. How many don’t have smartphones? Exactly. The other point is that people always carry their phones around with them.

Why points?
Psychologically speaking, the satisfaction of earning 100 points is much greater than the satisfaction of earning 1 cent, even if one knows the exchange rate. People are willing to do stupid things to accumulate points – e.g. on Facebook, over 2,700 people follow iReward (including me). Each weekday they publish an “iCode”, which when entered into their Website earns you a princely sum of 5 points – equivalent to 0.5 cents. If you do the math it’s an hourly rate of roughly $1.80 an hour, yet thousands of people spend, cumulatively, several hours doing this each and every day.

Why shopping vouchers?
Again, it’s a psychological thing. Shopping vouchers give a much greater impression of worth than cash, which always seems to come and go. I’m a member of several sites that offer cashback paid directly into your bank account, but that money just ends up being added to (and in good times, dwarfed by) the existing pool of funds, whereas with shopping vouchers I can always remember what I used them to buy.

What kinds of tasks?
Ideally every task would be interesting or fun in some kind of way: a vox pop style quiz question, a brand-sponsored interactive game, or a plain old banner click – none should take more than a few seconds to complete. Most tasks will be driven by client requests, but to keep the mix of tasks interesting, and to tide members over during gaps with sourcing, some low-value fluff could be offered, like “who’d win in a battle between The Terminator and Robocop?” etc.

Why such small rewards?
The first thing that occurs to some people when I shared this idea with them was “it’s not worth it. Why would I waste my time if the reward is only 1 cent?” But going back the question of “why points” there’s a psychological predisposition amongst many people to want to accumulate things, an observation I’ve made about myself, and which I’m sure is shared amongst a significantly large number of people.

There are a host of sites that offer incentives for completing marketing surveys: RewardCentral, iReward, My Opinions, PureProfile, AC Nielsen, That’s What I Think, Lightspeed Research, etc. etc. But let’s look specifically at RewardsCentral, one of the larger and more established players, boasting over half a million members. Like most of the consumer research panels above, they offer members the opportunity to take surveys for up to 250 reward points (equivalent to $2.50) depending on its length, which on average takes around 15 – 20 minutes to complete. Each day they also offer “Web clicks” (click on an advertising link) which pays 3 points, and a “Web survey” that pays 2 – a grand total of 5 cents per day. Yet this still earns me enough to “cash out” $60 a year.

With only the basic offer of paying 1 cent per question, assuming one completes 10 every weekday for a year (5 on the way to work, 5 on the way back) that works out to be $26. Make that 5 cents per task and now you’re talking about $130. Now consider that Google charges some advertisers several dollars per click through their keyword bidding system, if you were to pass most of that profit to the user… (this is a rabbit hole that I don’t have time to explorer here, but think about the sites like MoneybackCo and Buckscoop, which pay users the referral or affiliate fees offered by merchants, after pocketing a small cut. Take that concept and apply it to advertising – paying users for the privilege of advertising to them… that could be a Google slayer).

Where to after this?
Congratulations if you’ve made it this far – this is a long post even by my standards, and still only represents a fraction of the total idea. To give you a sense of where this could go though, the next evolution of this idea is to take the model of small tasks/small rewards, and apply it to big tasks/big rewards, in essence creating a freelance network encompassing not only digital work, but also manual jobs. But that’s another post for another day!