Monday, July 2, 2012

Visualizations of the oDesk "oConomy"

[Crossposted from the oDesk Blog. Blog post written together with John Horton.]

A favorite pastime of the oDesk Research Team is to run analyses using data from oDesk’s database in order to provide a better understanding of oDesk’s online workplace and the way the world works. Some of these analyses were so interesting we started sharing them with the general public, and posted them online for the world to see.

Deep inside, however, we were not happy with our current approach. All our analyses and plots were static. We wanted to share something more interactive, using one of the newer javascript-based visualization packages. So, we posted a job on oDesk looking for d3.js developers and found Zack Meril, a tremendously talented Javascript developer. Zack took our ideas and built a great tool for everyone to use:

The oDesk Country Dashboard

This dashboard allows you to interactively explore the world of work based upon oDesk’s data. We list below some of our favorite discoveries from playing with its visualizations. Do let us know if you find something interesting. Note that the tool supports “deep linking,” which means that the URL in your address bar fully encodes the view that you see.

Visualization #1: Global Activity

The first interactive visualization shows the level of contractor activity of different countries across different days of the week and times of day. The pattern seems pretty “expected”:

On a second thought, though, we started wondering. Why do we see such regularity? The x-axis is GMT time. Given that oDesk is a global marketplace, shouldn’t the contractor activity to be smoother? Furthermore, oDesk has a relatively smaller number of contractors from Western Europe, so it seems kind of strange that our contractor community generally follows the waking and sleeping patterns of UK. Investigating closer, if you hover around the visualization, you see a closer look at what contractors are doing throughout the world:

At 8am GMT on Wednesday morning: Russia, India, and China are awake and their activity is increasing.

As we move towards the peak of the global activity at 3pm, the activity of the Asian countries has already started declining. However, at the same time North and Latin America start waking up, compensating for the decrease in activity in Asia, and leading to the world peak.

After 4pm GMT, Asia starts going to sleep, and the activity decreases. The activity continues to decline as America signs off, hitting the low point of activity at 4am GMT (but notice how China, Philippines, and Australia start getting active, preventing the activity level from going to zero).

Visualization #2: Country-Specific Activity

A few weeks back, we also wrote about the rather unusual working pattern of Philippines: contractors from the Philippines tend to keep a schedule that mostly follows U.S. working hours, rather than a “normal” 9-5 day. Since then, we realized that the Philippines is not the only country following this pattern. For example, Bangladesh and Indonesia have similar activity patterns to Philippines. So, we thought, why not make it easy to explore and find working patterns. They reveal something about the culture, habits, and even type of work that gets done in these countries. A few findings of interest:

Visualization #3: Work Type By Country

Finally, we wondered “What are the factors that influence these working patterns?” Why do some culturally similar countries have very similar working patterns (e.g., Russia and Ukraine), while others have very different patterns (e.g., Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India)? So, with our third visualization we examine types of work completed on oDesk broken down by country. We used the bubble chart from d3.js to visualize the results. Here is, for example, the breakdown for U.S.:

U.S. contractors are mainly working in tasks related to writing. We do see many clients explicitly limit their search for writing contractors to U.S.-based only, both for English proficiency but also (and perhaps more importantly) for the cultural affinity of the writers to their audience. Take a look at Russia: Almost all the work done in Russia is Web programming and design, followed by mobile and desktop development.

At the opposite end is the Philippines, where few programming tasks are being completed, but significant amounts of data entry, graphic design, and virtual assistant work happen:

Another interesting example is Kenya. As you can see, most of the work done there (and there is a significant amount of work done in Kenya) is about blog and article writing:

Exploring Further: Activity Patterns and Types of Projects

One pattern that was not directly obvious was the correlation between activity patterns and type of work. Countries that are engaging mainly in computer programming tend to have a larger fraction of users that use oDesk. For example, see the similarity in the activity patterns of Bolivia, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine: and the corresponding project types that get completed in these countries:

We should note however that the opposite does not hold: There are other countries that have similar activity patterns and high degree of contractor stickiness (e.g., Argentina, Armenia, Bolivia, Belarus, China, Uruguay, and Venezuela) that have rather different project completion dates.

Source available on Github

One thing that attracted me to spend my sabbatical at oDesk was the fact that oDesk has been pretty open with its data from the beginning. To this end, you will notice that the Country Explorer is an open source project, so you are welcome to just fork us on Github and get the code for the visualizations.

New ideas and visualizations

I am thinking of what other types of graphs would be interesting to create. Supply and demand of skills? Asking prices and transaction prices of contractors across countries and across skills? Of course, if you have specific ideas you’d like to see us work on, tell us in the comments! Happy to explore directions and data that you are interested in exploring.