Digital Economy and Digital Labour Terminology: Making Sense of the “Gig Economy”, “Online Labour”, “Crowd Work”, “Microwork”, “Platform Labour”, Etc

Richard Heeks


Confused about the gig economy vs. platform economy vs. on-demand economy?  Befuddled by online labour vs. digital labour vs. platform labour?  Bemused by microwork vs. crowdwork vs. digital work?  Then read on.

This paper analyses the myriad terminologies that have arisen in relation to the digital economy and digital labour.  In detailed tables, it assesses the prevalence and currency within research literature of nearly 30 different terms.  It then provides a definition for each and summarises the typical content of literature using the term.  It also summarises current popularity of related Twitter hashtags.

Taking the specific example of online outsourcing of digital tasks, the paper analyses which of the different terms is most appropriate as an identifier (concluding these to be “online labour”, “online outsourcing” and “gig economy” depending on focal interest), and presents a graphical summary.  The review data provided can be re-used to identify the most-appropriate term for other labour-related topics in the digital economy.


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Educators’ Guide

Synopsis Questions

  1. What prime terms are suggested for researching platform-based outsourcing of digital tasks?  [Section A]
  2. How were the terms identified and categorised?  [Section B]
  3. Which are the most prevalent and most current terms relating to digital labour?  [Section C]


Development Questions

  1. Which matters more in choosing a term: its prevalence or its currency?
  2. In selecting a term, what relative weight should be given to academic citation usage vs. social media usage?
  3. Are there important digital labour terms missed out from the analysis?
  4. Select a different focal topic relating to digital labour.  Which term would  you recommend using for this topic, and why?