tl;dr: We ask that elections be held within a week for a Daemo governance board made up of 33.3% workers, 33.3% requesters, 33.3% Daemo developers (Crowd Researchers) from all over the world. Once created, they will develop a governing document with clear cut and fair guidelines for the operation and design of the platform going forward, including operation of the board itself. A media outreach team must be created to ensure that all voices are presented to the media, not just those of the group in power of the platform or people they select. Lastly, the Stanford participants will correct the record by ensuring that all understand that Daemo and Crowd Research are not just Stanford projects, but projects contributed to by hundreds of people who all had a significant and unequivocal role in its founding and design, leading to its current state. The current voices in the media represent few members of the project, not the creators of it.
Recently, an article was published which presented Daemo, a self governed platform, to the greater community. This may not have been the first time Daemo has been mentioned in the media, but this time it has been met with both excitement and fury. The article, exceptionally positive in its portrayal of the soon-to-be public platform, entices workers to abandon crowd work sites such as mTurk for the greener fields Daemo promises. At the same time, those who have worked with Daemo’s experiments as workers and those who have worked for years to create Daemo saw a darker side to the article. The article gushes over the platform’s set of core values, which are supposed to be upheld thanks to its experimental constitution guaranteeing such rights. One key phrase in the constitution is “All platform team activities are made public.” This is the first violation of the rights of the Crowd Research group — they were never told about the interview for the article, nor the article itself, until all was said and done. This is why no other voices were presented within the article outside Michael Bernstein’s and Mark Whiting’s — no one was consulted, so they had no ability to also speak about the platform. This disturbed many in the community, and has therefore caused a stir. They feel that the origins of the platform, and their role in its creation, have not been adequately presented to the public, and that this was unfair.
What is painfully clear is how little actual workers have played a role in the platform’s creation. Early on there were many workers contributing opinions, but they became disillusioned quickly. Academic viewpoints were valued over worker input, and the workers found that the dreams and expectations of the academics at the top outweighed the input from workers at the bottom. It started with workers being given “homework” where they were expected to read complex and technical articles to distill them down to a summary, which then went through peer review (peers being educated academics) which left them with bad feedback and insulting responses to their work. This is not an environment where a non-academic worker flourishes, and they left in droves. Thereafter, workers’ early contributions were ignored, and their names were not included on the papers published nor noted in interviews with the media. All of this was predicted early on by Six Silberman and Rochelle LaPlante who wrote about the newly formed Crowd Research project:
In this process, workers should be treated as equal, deeply invested, expert partners in building a better future of crowd work — not slotted into a process managed by a small team of researchers, designers, and programmers.
But why has it been this way? Because for Stanford, Daemo is not a crowd work platform, it is an experiment. How many people wrote the constitution? Not the majority of the group, but a tiny handful of authors, drafting an idea for how a constitution MIGHT be, not intending for it to be permanent. How many control the platform — finances, outreach to media, etc.? This hasn’t been drafted into a rule nor clarified with the project members because, again, this is just the preliminary stage of an experiment. Will profits go to the workers? To the developers? To he who owns the domain name? To the Stanford HCI group? To the Stanford University? This has not been clarified to the developers, Crowd Researchers, workers, nor requesters; nor has the business structure even been solidified, as far as we know, because this is an experiment not truly ready to go live. Why do all Daemo creators not have voting rights when we were promised open governance? A governance board was once created, but as it was too just an experiment its power was limited and it was quickly dissolved as it started to become a threat. This is a platform being sold as a competitor to crowd work sites such as mTurk which does not have solid governance, including a lack of a financial plan which has led to issues with paying the workers already on the platform.
There is a solution to the lack of transparency at the top, the lack of ability for all contributors to have their voices heard and their contributions credited, the lack of worker input, and the lack of governance: the Daemo platform must hold open elections within the week for a board to include 33.3% workers, 33.3% requesters, and 33.3% platform creators from all over the world. Michael Bernstein, Mark Whiting, Rajan Vaish, and others at Stanford, in control of the project for long, must step back to regular membership status and allow others to be elected to the board. All who have contributed to the project from day one, regardless of the size or duration of their participation, gender, race, or country, must be permitted to run for election. And once the election is complete, they must be given the power to control the platform based on the input of all of those invested in the Crowd Research project over the time since its inception. All decisions, whether financial, or regarding infrastructure, or operations, or otherwise, should go through the board.
The board must not only adhere to the constitution, but create a new one and have it approved by the community while refining it. This work is to include creating a concrete method of governance, including defining and limiting the powers attributed to the board; defining how the board will further be staffed and elected; defining the role and content of the “Daemo Platform Team” (or its dissolution, if that is better suited to the platform’s needs); and ensuring the constitution covers more than just dispute resolution and platform modification. Concrete outlines of the entire operation of the platform will be created, furthering transparency and democracy by building it into the system.
Assurances must also be made to allow all voices within the project to be heard, not only by the board governing the platform, but by those external to the platform. A media outreach team should be established with clear goals — to drum up publicity for the platform, to notify all members of Crowd Research about potential media opportunities, and to ensure spokespeople present not just the party line, but the truth that comes from all members of the project. This means ensuring there is constantly two-way communication between project members and the media team so that current, honest representation of beliefs, opinions, and desires are presented to those interested in documenting and sharing our story with the public.
Lastly, Michael Bernstein, Mark Whiting, Rajan Vaish, and all Stanford participants must agree to correct the story published and emphasize that Daemo was not a Stanford HCI project, nor based on previous Stanford projects, but instead a community effort that defies the boundaries of any one institution due to the overwhelming participation of people not just from other academic institutions, but from around the world. They must state unequivocally that Daemo is not a second step of the Dynamo project, but a project created on its own and of its own merit. Going forward, they must agree to ensure that anyone they speak to about the project understands that it is not just they who have founded and led Daemo, but a myriad of people whose personal investment has founded and created the platform we have today. It is important to have complete transparency and honesty going forward if we are to claim our platform supports such virtues.
Workers depend on crowd work platforms for their lives. Asking them to leave platforms such as mTurk for Daemo means asking them to potentially give up their income source, and we do not want to do so with a platform that is nothing but an experiment gone awry. We must establish Daemo as a transparent, worker-supporting platform run by a global team that represents all stakeholders involved to ensure not only that everyone on the platform is happy, but that the platform itself can grow based on the input of those who use it. Crowd work platforms have failed workers because they refuse to incorporate the ideas of users into plans for improvement. We cannot let Daemo do the same.