A Qualitative Investigation of Unmet Information-Seeking Needs of Online Workers

Allie Blaising, David Askay, Yasmine Kotturi, Chinmay Kulkarni



This qualitative study investigates socialization to online labor platforms using the information-seeking framework introduced by Miller and Jablins (1991). As workers adapt to this new work arrangement, they experience ambiguity and uncertainty that triggers seeking out information. Interviews with 29 online workers reveals the unmet information-seeking needs experienced by these workers. The findings extend the theoretical framework of information-seeking to account for the affordances and limitations present in OLPs. Furthermore, our findings suggest practical implications for the design of online labor platforms.


Allie Blaising interned with our group in 2017 and did some fabulous interviews with crowdworkers and freelancers on Upwork, Etsy, and Fiverr. This is the first of a growing list of publications based on our qualitative findings. This paper focuses on how freelancers seek and find information related to their work online. As Allie and Yasmine find, there is a rich ecosystem of online resources, and a well-developed set of worker practices.

One thing that has constantly surprised me in this project is the sheer diversity of ideas and energy that freelancers bring to solving their challenges. What's missing so far is tools that are designed with these practices in mind. One opportunity for future work (which Yasmine might explore) is distilling the most effective practices into tools that help all freelancers.

Frequently asked questions

Q: Is this project related to crowdsourcing?

A Yasmine talks about crowdsourcing to be a demand-mechanized market, while freelancing markets are a demand-and-supply-mechanized market. But rather than thinking about this in labor-econ terms, I think of crowdsourcing as a narrow form of freelancing, with very little flexibility in how you do the work. Freelancer markets allow greater back-and-forth in what the work is, how it is compensated, and how it is delivered.

Q: OK, but do these findings apply to crowdsourcing as well?

A Some of them do. The greater flexibility of online freelancer spaces allows for a greater diversity in practices, however. If you're interested in crowdsourcing specifically, start with reading Being A Turker and The Crowd is a Collaborative Network.

Q: Where is the rest of this research published?

A Much of this is still unpublished. Please email me, and I can send you some of our draft work.


@techreport{blaising2018unmet, title={A Qualitative Investigation of Unmet Information-Seeking Needs of Online Workers}, author={Blaising, Allie and Askay, David and Kotturi, Yasmine and Kulkarni, Chinmay}, booktitle={Proceedings of AIS 2018} }