How To Make Money From Distributed Computing

I always like to share any ideas I have about making more money so here’s a pretty unconventional and very geeky method I came across a couple years back but finally got around to putting into action recently. Considering how geeky this method actually is to get started, yet how easy it is to maintain, I will be posting a follow up article detailing, with screenshots, exactly how to get started.

What is distributed computing?

The term distributed computing is something you may hear about when discussing cost saving methods employed by Universities and government agencies. These organizations have thousands and thousands of computations that need to be completed every minute and mainframe computers are very expensive, say to the tune of $800,000 for a low end mainframe. Instead of footing the bill for these computations, some genius out there found that if they could create an application that would harness the power of all the computers in the world, and spread the workload of all the computations they needed completed across all these computers, they could easily get the job done at a fraction of the cost.

The application that handles the computation distribution harnesses only the idle time of all the computers that are participants of the distributed computer network so when you are not using your computer, someone else is using it’s power. Considering most people leave their computer on 24/7 yet only use it for a part of the day, the idle time across hundreds of thousands of computers per day is pretty huge.

Most of the time, this is used for research by big colleges into things like medical research, mathematical computations and even chess moves; good stuff that I am happy to lend my computer’s power for.

How can this be used to make money?

There is another company that is using distributed computing to provide a service only possible in this way; the systematic testing of websites in every browser, and every version of every browser available today to insure the greatest cross browser usability.

It sounds a lot like world domination..but it’s really cool!

The service is called and it’s used by web developers to improve the usability of their websites. I have used the service for my own web design projects for many years, and it’s a great service.

Let me explain exactly what the service does. You select all the web browsers you need your new website tested in, and the service sends a request to all the computers that have the browsers you selected installed. Each computer opens your website in the requested browser, and takes a picture of how the websites loaded. The pictures are uploaded to BrowserShots and allow you to view how your website looks in Internet Explorer 8, Firefox 3, Safari 5, and all of the browsers in between.

This helps developers insure their code is standard compliant and the website they are designing looks its best on every computer that visits.

The project is used by thousands of people every day. The creator has harnessed the power of the traffic that comes to the site to use the service to create ad revenue, but without the distributed computers to do all of the cross browser testing, the service would die, so he pays each and every distributed computer based on the percentage of screenshots they contribute.

This way, by donating your computers idle time, you can earn cash and help a not quite as angelic as medical research, but nevertheless good cause.

How exactly does this work and is it safe?

You may be feeling a bit paranoid with the thought of some stranger using your PC while you are away but the way BrowserShots, as well as other distributed computing systems work is quit safe and secure.

It works on a “pull” only system, so your computer, when idle, would run a little program that signs into the distributed computer master site, and gets task to run. The program has restricted access to the computers resources at is required to do the task.

Your computer does the requesting and only does what tasks are given to it. It is not controlled from the outside world. It can also only do things the BrowserShot’s API and application allow. The application happens to be Open Source as well, meaning anyone can take a look at the code to see exactly what is being done.

In particular with BrowserShots, their system only accesses your web browser and directs it to the website that is requesting a screenshot, through the BrowserShots API for tracking and management purposes.

How much money can you make?

Your pay is based on your percentage of the total screenshots taken in a particular month. On average, BrowserShots produces 4.1 Million screenshots per month and by my calculations, that equates to about $1,000 paid out to participants. The pay scale for the system is not published as far as my research has turned up, and I started using it early this month so at the end of the month, I can update you all with an exact dollar per percentage based on my data collected.

Another thing to consider is that if you have more than one computer available with lots of idle time, or have a higher powered computer that has the capability of hosting multiple Virtual Machines, you can get a larger chunk of this pie.

Based on my estimate so far though, and given the fact that you are not actually investing any money or time into earning this money, the return on investment is pretty good even if the yield is less than $10 a month.

How do I get involved?

The first thing you need to do is visit and sign up for a free account. Most of the process of creating a Shot Factory is very simple, but the website no longer hosts the files necessary to get involved in the program, so I will be writing a follow up post with the necessary files, and a complete walk-through to getting things going.

Are you comfortable lending your computer power to colleges, governments and for profit organizations to aid research?

Does the fact that based on my calculations, the payout for doing practically nothing using this system is more than ten times higher than the APY of ING Direct (1.1%) warm you up to the idea?

UPDATE: I’ve published a full walk-through to get started. Click here to check it out.

Image by Neil T

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17 People have left comments on this post

» Car CoachNo Gravatar said: { Sep 14, 2010 - 08:09:57 }

Jesse, This kinda thing is right up my alley, very cool!

Of course a similar scenario is used by many malware programs were your computer becomes a zombie looking for human brains….but I'm all for getting paid to be part of a "benign zombie army".
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» KevinNo Gravatar said: { Sep 15, 2010 - 09:09:55 }

That sounds great. I can't wait for your next post. I didn't know they offered this, I actually used them a couple of times for my blog
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Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Thanks Kev, their service being in beta, and their site being redesigned somewhat haphazardly has hidden this feature from the public eye for years. Many of the howto's and docs for creating a shot factories are 404'd. Personally I think the owner lost interest in keeping the site maintained because even without doing so, it still generates plenty of ad revenue for him 🙂 I don't blame him for that.

I'm trying to make it as easy as possible for others, especially non-techies to get in on this income stream generator so the post should be up tomorrow including a complete Virtual Machine down-loadable, fully configured as a shot factory.

» Jeff sustainlifeblogNo Gravatar said: { Sep 17, 2010 - 09:09:01 }

I would love to see some more posts on this once you get into the service more. Interesting to me, but I'd like to see more from someone who has used it before I dive in.
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Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

I had scheduled to post my complete walk-through soon after this post, but I wanted it to be perfect and easy to follow so those not as techy won't be scared to try it out, so keep an eye out for that coming soon. All you will have to do is download the files, install one application, change a couple lines of text and it will be good to go in a VM with no further maintenance.

» KNS_FinancialNo Gravatar said: { Sep 21, 2010 - 07:09:05 }

Hey Jesse, this sounds coll and a little scary at the same time. I can't wait until you update us on how this worked out for you this month.
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Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Ya, I'm excited to see what my final monthly numbers will be too. I can tell you right now, they are above what I expected! 10 days to go and I'll update the post with a more accurate estimated payout percentage.

JamesNo Gravatar Reply:

So did they ever pay you? If so how much were you paid per month?

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Hey James, they did pay me via PayPal when I hit the $20 mark. I’ve gotten a bit busier than expected around here but I’ll definitely still post an update to this post as soon as I can!

JamesNo Gravatar Reply:

Thanks for the reply. I wasn’t able to find any info on their website about getting paid for having this run on your computer. How did you find out about it and could you possibly post any direct links you know of for where they mention the details of the payment program? I am also curious how long it took you to hit the $20 mark? Was this accomplished by leaving your computer running their software all day long or just from time to time? Thanks again for the information.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

I don’t think their site is maintained actively, and their payment system must be automatic. I hit the $20 mark after about a month and a half, running the system 24/7 with 2-3 virtual machines. I had it crash a few times, so my average time would be probably 15 hours a day.

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