Just coming back in to reply to your comments.
I want to say I've done less than two dozen of them, and I've not personally had them fritz out on me during my participation, however, I've seen the following things just as being a link in the chain of doing them: them not updating for new objectives, them throwing TB's when you attempt to check them, and them sort of just becoming non-interactive like they're a bricked phone or something IRL. Next time I see one of these things happen- as I haven't been able to get my hands on them recently- I'll bug accordingly.
As for them being busywork, if I were to try and break down my impression to be more mechanically-minded, here's what I think: If these are to be devices that are to issue a chain of tinyplots that are designed to make RP happen outside of their corporation, they don't really seem to hitting the mark. Yes, there are some tasks which by their very nature require the involvement of other large institutions. However many of the tasks tend to be something like find: "A tailor, a tinker, a soldier, a spy" and if/when you have all of those in your corp it feels like passing around the fedex tablet to sign for packages at the office. It works around the office key in the course of a hour or so and then winds up being a chyen dispenser for those who get involved.
To answer your questions:
-Boring: I really like the idea of involving different archetypes and doing tasks that involve rooting around in the dome for things and places. I think more tasks like go here, do this thing, interact with this object, talk to this NPC, visit this social hub, etc. might be nice. I don't *think* these need to be clandestine if they were perhaps named a bit differently. I.E. "SHI E-Tablet 7.1" instead of SKSKSKSKSKSK THING
-More people: There isn't any reason to take these outside your corp or trusted friends circle ICly, and I think that's a big opportunity for improvement. The only thing is- I worry that if something like adding a lockout system that persists week over week so you don't just use the same people every go-around, that then with player numbers in roles always fluctuating, if you'll be able to get the subtasks done at all. In addition, adding the ability to SKIP a subtask at the cost of losing all the added benefit of that subtask because people in role XYZ simply don't log in regularly would also be nice. This way when that part-time player role gets rolled off the top or near the top, it's not resulting in potentially a dead-end macguffin.
-Why nobody steals them: If I'm not mistaken these straight up keep a record of 'usage' and ownership transfer. Say you steal it and then want to ransom it back, right? Are you not then just shooting yourself directly in the foot? I know there's been talk on XOOC as well about the inability to really extract the value of the item when it's been stolen as well- possibly due to limiting factors of secondary markets. I might suggest adding a back alley NPC on gold or something that takes 'missing' macguffins and doles out nice fat wads of chyen for doing so- especially if the macguffin is 'fresh' and still relevant.
-Locations: I don't think blue or the badlands is going to offer much, if any additional RP. What could be interesting, however, is going to frequently populated or popular areas in the mix. For example, places where former corporate NPC's might have some insight on fixing a macguffin task. As mentioned above, however, if we want players to not go turbo risk adverse mode, there's an issue with the object names being just a bit too on the nose.
-Number of people: I think the number of people right now is about spot on. Decent risk exposure, not too little, not too much.
-Moving outside corps: Yes. I think the idea with these are that they're supposed to get us paying people to go do menial tasks for 'us' the corporates, right? Two issues being: one, sometimes they don't pay sufficiently for people to actually be motivated to do them mix-side (we really need to address how significant the income gap is becoming across the divide here, but idigress) and two, it needs to be done in such a way that 'trusty fellow X in Y sector' isn't just the person getting the job every single time.
-Skillsofts: I'm not really sure how you'd go about doing this. I suppose you could make the timers more aggressive so that people don't have time to slot a soft, or make the checks harder so that lower level, faster loading softs aren't going to check the box, but then my concern would be 'Are we excluding "legitimate" players because they don't play the game 12 hours a day?'
-More fun: I'm not sure how to make them more fun or to have them create 'deeper and more meaningful' RP. I think it comes down to who's managing them, really.
-Not good RP tools?: I think they have the potential to be great RP tools, but as a tool it's really up to the players to make them into compelling plots and jobs or to just go 'go do this thing, get paid' and hand it over.
-Payouts: If I think some of the points addressed above are corrected, such as making sure that they don't just get used by a handful of the same people week to week, aren't getting done by a single organization, etc, I think the payouts could probably be UPPED if anything. CAVEAT BEING: I think the ability to do embezzlement and fraud with these is too high, and contained too much by the people who are turning them in. If the 'go do this thing, filthy mixer' task is supposed to be high risk and pay 15K or something, there's no reason or incentive to actually pay that out if you can find some bum to do it for 2K and pocket the 13 yourself. Could argue that's good theme, but players being players tend to.. game systems. Maybe there could be a way to indicate what the 'value' of your work per task should be, so you know if you're getting F---ed over or not?
Sorry for the wall of text, that was a lot of questions to work through! Hope it's helpful.