two paths

  1. a useful, practical app to automate uber incentive tracking, store data, and help prevent wage theft
  2. a speculative project, grounded in research, about facebook users as workers that imagines ux elements (buttons, etc.) and policies that would enable organizing and enshrine user/worker protections in law

notes from my meeting with alex

what i brought to the meeting:

things that have happened in the world:
– nodapl facebook check-ins
– instacart strike
– korryn gaines case, baltimore police and facebook collaboration

– re: korryn gaines, i am interested in facebook users mobilizing on the platform to demand accountability, much in the same way as workers would organize to leverage collective power to make demands of employers. however, when i share this with others, it doesn’t totally click. people don’t immediately “get” the facebook users as workers connection, even though after you say it, there is some recognition that it is possible.
– re: instacart, people working within the constraints of the platform itself to call attention to/organizing against/making demands around the misuse of the platform
– re: nodapl, using the platform itself to make demands around misuse of the platform or what the platform should be used for
– working within the constraints of these platforms feels like a kind of hacking that’s interesting to me

people doing work in this space:
– you
– turkopticon
– lightbeam
– do you know others?

these are potential starting points for my work:
– uber driver api (interesting because access is discretionary)
– chrome extension
– do you know existing organizing patterns? communication patterns?

my goals:
– i want to make something rigorous, but where outcomes are not the same as a commercial project. that puts this in “art” world? but where i can ask good questions
– you know how to ask good questions and how to know which questions are worth asking…

these are questions i have for you:
– what are the organizing affordances of these platforms that’s different from IRL organizing, aside from scale which is the one everyone points to


what i took away from the meeting:

Michelle Miller,
Robyn Caplan, D&S


– way of defining harm
– is there a precedent in consumer protection law?

**dedicated users**
– who wants to be advocated for?
– probably not casual users/earners

– what does “active” mean? different things on different platforms
– what does it mean that a customer or employee can be “deactivated”
– inventing new language, new vocabulary to obscure responsibility/accountability
– talk to companies who have access to the Driver API
——–> automate incentive tracking, prevent wage theft
——–> 3rd party account of drivers meeting expectations

Urban Hail
– Uber cut off their API access

System design critiques
– common in physics; people who worked on the atom bomb
– what are the ethics of working on grocery supply systems when those are mapped to human/employment systems?
– costs (political, human) of this mapping

Discretionary calls
– norms around being public square in conflict with norms around being a corporation

– discretionary access to controlled APIs (like Uber driver API, which has information about routes and fares) as a way of wielding power

Repos to review

undoing the demos

this is where i’ll collect quotes from wendy brown’s book¬†undoing the demos that i think are relevant to my project of something something organizing, digital platforms, and labor:

“The transformation of labor into human capital and of workers into entrepreneurs competing with other entrepreneurs obviously obscures the visibility and iterability of class to an even greater degree than classical liberalism does. It also eliminates the basis for alienation and exploitation as Marx conceived them.” -p65

“Third, when everything is capital, labor disappears as a category, as does its collective form, class, taking with it the analytic basis for alienation, exploitation, and association among laborers. Dismantled at the same time is the very rationale for unions, consumer groups, and other forms of economic solidarity apart from cartels among capitals. This paves the way for challenging several centuries of labor law and other protections and benefits in the Euro-Atlantic world and, perhaps as important, makes illegible the foundations of such protections and benefits.” -p39

project studio road map til semester end


  • meet with alex 11/8
  • follow up with media justice center


  • read 3 papers ahead of 11/8 meeting
  • pull quotes from ‘the undercommons’
  • pull quotes from ‘undoing the demos’
  • go back to my performance of politics paper and the undercommons


  • start conceptual scaffolding for thesis:
  • why labor has changed (wendy brown)
  • modes of resistance (the undercommons), discussion of the differences/overlaps between art, tech, spec design, advocacy
  • outline of existing tools in this space/inspiring projects
  • outline of existing opposite-inspiring projects


  • prototype a chrome extension for facebook? uber?
  • prototype an automated script for facebook? uber?
  • prototype an ad for facebook? uber?


  • apply to d&s workshop on labor


stuff that’s happening/stuff to do:

  • meetings!
  • i want to apply to be a part of this workshop on work and automation
  • to read: 1, 2, 3

part one: i was originally interested in the overlap i see between open source software projects and grassroots organizing. this now only seems like half of what i’m interested in. we don’t organize just for the hell of it, just like we don’t “build community” for the hell of it. organizing builds collective power. collective power is important to the extent that it results in material improvements to people’s lives. i’m curious about the extent to which the scalability and accessibility of a distributed open source model can be used to expand the reach of and participation in IRL social movements.

part two: everyone’s talking about digital literacy. but to what end? i’m interested in a digital literacy that empowers people as civic participants. i’m interested in a digital literacy that helps activists build tools to leverage power as workers and users of digital platforms. currently, these platforms benefit from intentional information asymmetries, but the reality is that they would not exist without us. how do we leverage this to demand accountability, fair wages, transparency? this looks different in different kinds of cases. in particular, i’m interested in two kinds of recent cases:

  1. instacart strike.
  2. facebook collaboration with police to censor police killing of korryn gaines.

these are technical design challenges. maybe they look like apps or browser extensions or encrypted email lists or a combination of all the above or something else entirely.

so that’s it. those are the things. going forward, i need to work on elaborating what i see as the lay of the land, the problems, and the opportunities here. aside from that, there are some prototypes to be very sketchily sketched and design challenges to think through. everyone’s talking about algorithmic accountability lalala, but what if we never get access to proprietary algorithms? what if, instead, we hack our way around them the way instacart workers did? i’m interested in a digital literacy, a kind of thinking aided by a technical skill set, that makes this possible on a larger scale.

thoughts on 6a68’s thoughts on open product development

jared wrote really interesting posts about open product development and building a community of contributors around test pilot. through emailing him some long rambly thoughts in response, i actually got to think through some ideas i’ve been mulling over around

  • the overlap between grassroots organizing spaces and open source software
  • infrastructure for communities of contributors that enables them continue to grow and learn and build together
  • how to mitigate burnout & other problems

so. ramblings below.

“some things the open product dev piece brought up for me:

– it seems like your “generating and discussing…” section assumes that the test pilot community contains/is made up of people with skill sets that mirror staff mozilla product teams: roughly, ux/ur & dev. so my first question is: is that true? if not, an issue becomes how to improve the pipeline to the test pilot community so that it becomes true. another issue is what if the ratios are off? more ux than devs or vice versa? how can people plug in with different skill sets? or is the test pilot target audience people who can either do user research or dev?

– another thing i’ve seen play out in activist organizing spaces, which actually feel structurally similar to what i’ve seen in open source in some ways, is that people tend to fall into roles. one person always does logistics, one person always writes press releases, the rest of the people always wait to be assigned something, etc. in open source, i wonder if this would play out like: a few people always come up with new product ideas, a few other people always do research stuff, etc. how do you feel about this? should there be an effort for people to try out other roles and build other skill sets? i think there are pros and cons to trying new roles AND really building ONE skill set, so i’m just putting out the question. related: seems like another thing i’m getting at is a power law distribution of labor and credit for contributions. is that sustainable/how will that play out over time? will it lead to burnout in open source in the way it often leads to burnout in activist spaces? if so, is it important to mitigate in some way?

– one last thing! i am not really familiar with different ways mozilla volunteers plug in or how they build community, so take this next part with that grain of salt. in my experience building community IRL, it seems that different kinds of gathering/communicating structures bring different kinds of people together. so i guess i wonder whether discourse forums/forums in general being the primary mode of collaboration means that certain kinds of people will be drawn to or put off by participating? i think you, john, and/or wil actually already brought this up. maybe marketing can help with pitching the collaboration in different ways to different audiences and providing additional/alternative ways to plug in. for example, maybe IRL test pilot hackathons could be a way of reaching folks and bringing people together in a way that the forum wouldn’t.”

coding together at scale

i found a paper i’m really excited about! this finding really sticks out to me: “We find a very low reciprocity of the social ties, which is remarkably different from the findings of studies of other types of social networks.”

this reminds me of another line that’s been stuck in my brain for a few months now: “Email, texting and messaging apps are social reciprocity factories” from tristan harris’s very insightful article last spring. harris is talking about how so many social technologies hijack our attention and agency. in this context, github’s “low reciprocity of social ties” feels like a positive characteristic. i wonder if there is something here about the importance of weak links in social networks. barabasi talks a little about this in linked which i’m still reading for tom’s class.

i do wish there were more in this study about github projects as nodes for connecting people, even if they’re not exactly collaborators on a branch. i only skimmed, so maybe it actually is in there. either way, excited to have a lead here.

a scientific thing

we are supposed to “Incorporate a scientific layer into your project.”

some scientific layers i’m interested in thinking about are 1. yochai benkler and 2. network theory.

benkler writes and speaks about open source economics, and i want to flip through his book the wealth of networks.

and i’m thinking about network theory because of tom’s class. i don’t necessarily think it’s appropriate to apply mathematical concepts to social worlds, but there may be a dataviz or something in the weak links that are cultivated through open source projects of a certain size.

3 next steps

i see my project in this studio as framing some of the technical things i’m doing outside of class in terms of what it means to build stuff with people; in other words, this project is about collaborative projects as a medium, as process.

3 next steps:

  • sketch out [in words] the main argument/hypothesis that’s floating around in my brain. something something scalable collaboration.
  • pick 3 writers, thinkers, or artists who have said things about this
  • make some wordless gifs or sketches around concepts i learn about

project statement/how i want to spend the semester:

my brain dump/storm raised a bunch of formats, sources, and projects i’m interested in. i’m really interested in the role of the web in producing, revising, distributing ideology and history. that’s too much for one semester. so to narrow things a little: this semester, i’d like to articulate, in words and pictures, something about certain kinds of tech as a medium for collaborative process, and the relationship between collaborative process and ideology.

initial ramblings

this semester, i’m taking a project development studio. i’d like to use the time and structure of this class to think and write about some projects i’ll be working on:

  • the p5-web-editor with cassie
  • a project about networks with surya

these are both very different projects, but i’m interested in thinking about what draws me to them and what they might have in common.

let’s start with the p5 web editor. this is an open-source tool for learning how to code with the creative coding language, p5.js.

the project with surya is different. this is a teaching and advocacy tool meant to make the process of learning about networks engaging and fun. i’ll be working on web episodes and thinking a lot about audience and tbd stuff.

the things that excite me most about any project are 1. the ideas behind the project and 2. who i get to work with. i am totally thrilled to work with both of the people leading these projects because i think they’re thoughtful and creative and kind and really smart.

switching gears. the backdrop of everything always for me is kafka and judith butler and hannah arendt. since i read eichmann in jerusalem a million years ago, i have never stopped being haunted by the idea that what makes people do evil things is a lack of imagination, an inability to think. what leads to this state of affairs? what is the role of bureaucracy here? and ideology? where can i possibly intervene?  what special opportunities does the internet present? demand? what about code? collaborative projects?

both of these projects are open-source or have elements of open-source thinking. i want to use the time in this studio to get specific about the difference between “free” and “collaborative” and “open-source.” they are not all the same. further: i think part of my excitement about open-source comes from a belief in the mcluhan thing that the medium is the message. if we are collaborating, if we are thinking and teaching each other along the way, we cannot be doing harm. of course, this is not always true. i wanna think about when it is true and when it’s not true.