TimeDiff: Yet Another Site of Crowdsourcing

There is a new website started by a group of Ivy League graduates from China called TimeDifference (www.ShiCha.com or www.TimeDiff.cn). Basically, what they do is crowdsourcing Chinese students abroad who have experience in applying for schools outside of China to help students who are in China now and want to do further study abroad. Domestic students who want to go abroad (the clients) will have questions about how to prepare for GRE, TOEFL, ILSE tests; how to write CV and personal statement;  how to find the proper schools to apply and how to communicate with professors; and all other questions regarding the application processes. They can go to this website and put a task there, also offer an amount of payment. All students abroad (the consultants) can go there to compete for the task and earn the payment. Every consultant has a profile on the website. Along the way, the consultants can accumulate credits for providing high quality services to the clients. So if their credits are high, they will likely get more tasks in the future.  I’ve noticed that many major studying-abroad consulting companies have also put their profiles there.

I think this might be a good idea, but I have two deep doubts:

(1) This TimeDiff company has started to recruit consultants from abroad promising minimum $15/hour payment in the recruitment advertisement earlier this year. Out of curiosity, I applied and passed the interview. After they have recruited the consultants, they announced that there will be no payment from the company to the consultants, all payment will come from the clients, and the consultants have to compete for it. They also require 10 hours free service before the consultants can compete for payment. This was the time when we realized we were getting exploited and we got pissed off and organized a discussion group on QQ, and also sent letters to the company to complain. There was no result for the protest, and the company still insisted there will be no payment from the company. After that, many consultants simply left, some still hang in there wanting to earn some money. They might also get some other new consultants via other venues. Even if this website is a very good idea, the company doesn’t have a very ethical practice.

(2) There are many many other online discussion forums where students abroad offer information and share experience to domestic students for free. How well this website will be doing for charging a fee for this kind of information? It definitely offers more services (e.g., the consultant may help edit the CV and PS of the clients, while those free forums usually only offer guidelines and information) and personalized one-on-one interaction between consultant and client. However, does these really help that much?

Beautiful Songs Shared via Human Generosity

This is a review about Emotional Bag Check, a site where you can off-load your emotional bag and get a nice song suggested by a stranger to cheer you up. It “turns music into mental medicine”.

I’ve tried this site twice this weekend, and really like it. The first time I posted that “My badminton partners don’t really want to play with me, because I am worse than them. I am ruining their fun. They just ignore me implicitly.” I got a song back in about 20 hours. It’s called Onemosphere by Atmosphere from the album God Loves Ugly. I never heard this song before, and it’s not really my style, but the lyrics is somehow encouraging. The second time, I posted “I got a very bad team partner from one class. He just talks big and doesn’t really do real work. I have to do twice the work.” I got a song back in just about one hour and with some comfort words. The song is Lean On Me, which I really like. The fact that these strangers are putting thought and effort looking for the song that could comfort me is really touching.

I tend to blog or post something online when I am unhappy. I think Internet can be used for healing emotional discomfort if used wisely. Life is tough. We constantly need someone to share, or need a shoulder to lean on. However, out of various reasons, oftentimes we cannot find the appropriate person to share, or a shoulder to borrow around us. Strangers can be a good choice under such circumstances, since we don’t need to worry about anything else. Internet is a good place to seek strangers since the identity can be totally hidden. People become more understanding and empathetic when being a rationale stranger. Not only I can seek comfort from Facebook among people I know, also I can seek comfort from totally strangers. Now I think for healing emotional discomfort very close people (strong ties) and totally strangers can both be helpful, while weak ties are mostly for purposes like job seeking, information sharing, etc. The weak ties for me is a gray zone, and haven’t figured out how to maintain yet.

If what Clay Shirky meant by cognitive surplus can be regarded as a intellectual contribution to the whole society, what Emotional Bag Check and other similar sites such as PostSecret brought is psychological or emotional contribution to humanity. Both of them are out of human generosity.

While I like the idea behind the Emotional Bag Check very much, I also appreciate the simply and easy user interface. Not need to sign up and be buzzed by the various functionality, just write things out of your chest and get a song via email with a URL linked to Grooveshark.

screenshots from http://www.emotionalbagcheck.com

This is almost the simplest user interface design I’ve ever seen. It’s this simple and achieved a lot. The user also have another choice to offer to help others out by taking the bag and finding an appropriate song. I haven’t tried this, assume that it should also be easy to use. There is one interview with the creator of Emotional Bag Check Robyn Overstreet, and he mentioned that he wants to keep things simple. Simple is good!