Motivating Firm-Sponsored E-Collective Work

44 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2010

See all articles by Juan Andrei Villarroel Fernandez

Juan Andrei Villarroel Fernandez

MIT Sloan Center for Collective Intelligence; Catolica-Lisbon School of Business

Christopher L. Tucci

Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne - MTEI

Date Written: January 13, 2010


This article sheds light on the factors that motivate online communities to collectively enact work in firm-sponsored initiatives. We term the general approach to online distributed knowledge-based work: “e-collective work”. While the literature has focused in understanding motivation in self-organized e-collective work (e.g. Wikipedia, Linux), our understanding is limited regarding firm-sponsored e-collective work. The study presented here builds on several case studies with a particular focus on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (AMT), a firm-sponsored e-collective work endeavor where contributors are paid for participating. In particular, we analyze the motivational factors – from volunteerism to non-volunteerism – that lead to greater participation and contribution performance on the part of this online community. The results of the statistical analysis of 391 complete responses to an online survey of contributors to the AMT show that volunteerism factors are not good predictors of performance. Instead, non-volunteerism factors are found to be reliable determinants of performance in this firm-sponsored online community. In particular: (1) money – an unusual motivation factor in online communities, – and (2) fun – a typical motivation found in open source communities – are found to be strong predictors across different measures of performance. In addition, (3) free time – an intuitively reasonable explanation for participation – is found to have a negative effect on the duration of participation. It is apparent from these findings that contributors in this firm-sponsored e-collective initiative are in for monetary profit and fun, while they do not consider their time spent solving problems as free time. These findings contribute to the strategy literature, enhancing our understanding of this new source of competitive advantage for the firm, lying outside the boundaries of the formal interorganizational fabric and bridging into the public domain. The implications for practice are important as online collective approaches to work offer firms a radical and seemingly effective alternative to organizing knowledge-based work.

Keywords: Online communities, collective intelligence, work motivation, competitive advantage, firm boundaries

Suggested Citation

Villarroel Fernandez, Juan Andrei and Villarroel Fernandez, Juan Andrei and Tucci, Christopher L., Motivating Firm-Sponsored E-Collective Work (January 13, 2010). MIT Sloan Research Paper No. 4767-10, Available at SSRN: or

Juan Andrei Villarroel Fernandez (Contact Author)

MIT Sloan Center for Collective Intelligence ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

Catolica-Lisbon School of Business ( email )

Palma de Cima
Lisbon, Lisboa 1649-023

Christopher L. Tucci

Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne - MTEI ( email )

Station 5
Lausanne, 1015
+41.21.693.0023 (Phone)
+41.21.693.0020 (Fax)


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