This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
As a writer, I love to have my voice heard. It is my raison d'être, my modus operandi. But even normal people who aren't cool professional writers want others to know their thoughts, which is why we have Twitter and Facebook statuses and LiveJournals and stuff, so the regular everyman can bark their nonsense into the vast black whirlwind of nothing that is the internet.
Sadly, however, the everyman doesn't have the enviable level of intelligence us writers possess. So where can the everyman—this husk, this poor, sad sap—have his or her voice heard while also receiving the minute and disappointing payment so familiar to professional writers? The answer is, surely, doing loads of online surveys—those multiple choice questionnaires that promise to pay you "up to £60 [$92]" simply for lodging your thoughts about washing machines, or deodorant, or whatever.
As far as I can see, the survey occupies three places in the average Brit's mind: Les Dennis shouting it between the words "our" and "says" on Family Fortunes; unfortunate adults whose job it is to ask people in the street what kind of chow mein they normally get with their Chinese delivery; and the pop-ups your grandparents get on their computers because they haven't discovered AdBlock yet.
But there's now a fourth category. The other day, a tweet appeared unsolicited on my feed—a promoted tweet—from SurveyCompare, a survey aggregating site that puts you in touch with anyone who'll have you and claims you'll make decent money out of doing these online polls. I like money, and I had an entire day with no plans, so I thought I'd spend eight hours trying to make enough cash to buy a pint.
SurveyCompare put me on to three different survey sites: GlobalTestMarket, Opinion Outpost, and something called Toluna. I thought it best to concentrate my efforts on only two. That way, instead of spreading my attention too thin, I could maintain focus, accrue more funds, and render myself wealthy. On visiting these websites, however, I discovered it isn't quite as black and white as just "do surveys and get money." There were systems in place here.
It turns out you can't just do a bag of surveys and get PayPal'd some cash, rather there are an assortment of gifts and prizes and things you can obtain. Every time you do a survey you get points, which are based on the length and importance of the survey and how relevant you are to the surveyors' interests. Most of the prizes for points weren't money, but vouchers for Starbucks and entries into quarterly sweepstakes where you had the chance to win £1,500 [$2,300] or something.
To test whether I was the right candidate for a certain survey, they would ask me quite personal, invasive questions, like "How many children under 18 do you care for?" and "What best describes your profession?" This was the most nebulous one, to be honest. As a writer and artiste, I didn't fit into the claustrophobic parameters of the working everyman. I mean, look at this:
I'm certainly not a nun or a monk or a self-employed farmer, but I'm also not the CEO of a multinational corporation. Where do I fit in in this survey job scape?
This one was slightly easier to navigate, as it essentially gave me a choice between "computer icon" and "paint brush and palette icon." I'm sure you can imagine which I went for. (Spoiler: I went for the one dubbed "intellectual profession.")
My hopes of earning a quick buck doing surveys was quickly dashed when I saw that the minimum amount of points you needed to stack up to earn £30 [$46] through GlobalTestMarket was around 150,000, and I was currently sat at 22.
No matter: Perhaps my efforts would garner me some other reward, like an Amazon voucher, or maybe a weird plastic watch.
Problem was, I didn't seem to fit any of the criteria. I don't have a driver's license. I wasn't born in February. I don't hunt moose, bear, or elk. I most certainly haven't published a digital book in the past month, or had a vaccination for malaria. I was beginning to think that I, the great writer, was in actual fact a bit of a useless cock with nothing much to say for himself other than a meagre collection of articles posted online. It was quite the shock.
Nevertheless, I powered on, doing survey after survey after survey. It was extremely depressing. The work was silent, indolent clicking of "strongly agree" or "mostly disagree" on a slew of inconsequential questions about Netflix.
And the emails, they just kept coming. Every five minutes I'd get another notification from GlobalTestMarket telling me a new survey had become available, just for me. They pounded my little inbox until I relented and did more surveys.
A particularly long and soul destroying one came courtesy of Amazon Prime, a service I have never used, berating me via placid questions about why I had never used it. It gave me a sense of what life would be like if I did a job that wasn't being a revolutionary voice for the voiceless, a.k.a. a web journalist, and did a normal people job like data entry or whatever. I peered into the bleeding red abyss of the normal person's life, contused and flabby from Snack-a-Jack addiction and troubling e-cig reliance, and saw nothing good. Doing surveys all day fucking sucked.
I wanted to end this charade and reap my rewards. I had done what felt like innumerable surveys and I wanted my big prize. I went on my Toluna profile to see how many points I had garnered.
Hey, 1,080, that's not so bad, right? I wonder what I can get for all those points? Money is surely out of the question, but shit, maybe a free garlic bread at Pizza Express?
Alas, the only thing all that time and clicking had got me was a £10 [$15] e-voucher for a company called My Photobook, where you can get photobooks made. My journey to the heart of surveys4pay was over and I was none the richer. I was wiser, though, and I'm going to use my voucher to make a photobook of pictures of wartime vivisections to teach me never to play with such a dull flame again.
Follow Joe on Twitter.