We Are Dynamo: Overcoming Stalling and Friction in Collective Action for Crowd Workers

Niloufar Salehi, Lilly Irani, Michael Bernstein, Ali Alkhatib, Eva Ogbe, Kristy Milland, Clickhappier
CHI: ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2015
By lowering the costs of communication, the web promises to enable distributed collectives to act around shared issues. However, many collective action efforts never succeed: while the web's affordances make it easy to gather, these same decentralizing characteristics impede any focus towards action. In this paper, we study challenges to collective action efforts through the lens of online labor by engaging with Amazon Mechanical Turk workers. Through a year of ethnographic fieldwork, we sought to understand online workers' unique barriers to collective action. We then created Dynamo, a platform to support the Mechanical Turk community in forming publics around issues and then mobilizing. We found that collective action publics tread a precariously narrow path between the twin perils of stalling and friction, balancing with each step between losing momentum and flaring into acrimony. However, specially structured labor to maintain efforts' forward motion can help such publics take action.