Niloufar Salehi is a PhD student in Computer Science at Stanford University and a member of the Human Computer Interaction group. Her research focuses on designing technologies for communities to act collectively online as well as studying digital labor and crowdsourcing systems. Her work involves ethnographic studies of online labor and activism among workers. To address the difficulties of collective action online she has built Dynamo, a platform where crowdsourcing workers can gather to debate issues, find solutions, and act collectively to power change in their work environment.
Dynamo: Designing Interactive Technology to Support Social Movements in Digital Labor
As digital labor markets grow, the distributed nature of the workforce introduces new challenges for worker’s activist efforts for labor rights. Scholars have raised doubts about how effective digital media can be in creating social change, arguing that on the ground activism can not be substituted with digital only social interactions. Yet, digital labor communities solely exist and function online. What can “on the ground” activism mean for them? As researchers we collaborated with workers of one such market (Amazon Mechanical Turk) to learn about the possibilities of digital collective action. We have built Dynamo, a system that supports workers to pitch ideas, gather to discuss them, define collective goals, and act on them. We designed Dynamo iteratively, continuously listening for feedback, changing the design, and implementing changes as workers mobilized with it. Over the last year we studied workers of AMT (Turkers), we posted surveys and spoke to close to a hundred Turkers to learn about their relationships with one another and with their employers. We learned that Turkers have built whole digital communities that are resources for education and socialization. However, collective efforts within these communities proved much more difficult. This talk will examine the barriers that Turkers face when they try to gather around shared issues and find solutions that they can act on. We will also describe our design interventions to address these barriers and two actions that Turkers have organized through Dynamo as well as others that they have imagined and pursued through the system. Dynamo is a first step towards better understanding of digital labor markets and the affordances of digital media that workers of these markets can leverage to act towards change.