be explained by design alone. Repair
work—both ongoing and in crises—
sustains the system and informs our
design decisions as Turkopticon evolves.
To keep Turkopticon going, for
example, we adapt to evolving work
practices and worker expectations.
When the system was small,
occasional rants and profanity slid
by easily. As the reviews piled up,
aggressive language began to drive
some workers away. In response,
we added an automated profanity
filter. We also designed flagging and
moderation features and invited
some of our most prolific reviewers—
Taintturk, Honuagal, and Anne M—
to moderate problematic reviews.
Through repair, we also keep
Turkopticon moving on the treadmill
of computational change. More than
once we’ve spent unplanned days
recovering from our host’s “upgrades”
to our server. In summer 2013, Firefox
changed its security requirements
for browser add-ons; we scrambled to
comply. For years, the growth of our
user base stressed our host’s servers.
They throttled our CPU usage, slowing
down Turkopticon for workers. As an
infrastructure, Turkopticon hums along
quietly on some days but lurches and
drags on others.
We take repair seriously by keeping
our technical ambitions small even
as our social change ambitions are
large. We keep the design of the tool
minimal—not because minimal is
beautiful, but because we can maintain
minimal on a small budget. The futures
of repair constitute our imagination of
what we would want to design.
This repair and maintenance work,
as Steven Jackson argues persuasively
[ 5], falls out of view when we focus
on design as production, origination,
and innovation. Jackson writes that
dominant imaginings of technology
locate and valorize innovation “at the
top of some change or process, while
repair lies somewhere else: lower, later,
or after innovation in process and
worth.” Yet “the efficacy of innovation
in the world is limited—until extended,
sustained, and completed in repair.”
Following Jackson’s “broken world
thinking,” we can’t claim here that as
designers we are the agents of progress.
Rather, we find ourselves within the
“fractal, centrifugal, always-almost-
falling-apart world” as agents of always
inadequate “fixing and reinvention,
reconfiguring and reassembling
into new combinations and new
This reassembly produces not
only technology, but also new social
formations that emerge through
these practices of design. Repair work
strengthens ties and builds solidarity
among workers collaborating on
the practical, shared, and political
circumstances we share in addressing
issues of fairness in crowdwork. For
example, we spent years answering
user questions over email. About a year
ago, we switched to an email list where
people with a stake in Turkopticon—
users, moderators, maintainers, fans—
can pose and respond to questions.
Sometimes, these discussions are
around technical issues or bugs. Other
times, they might be a debate about how
much employers really ought to pay.
Those discussions can at once be down
in the details of use and a mile high
about how Turkopticon’s categories are
creaking under the weight of Turking
life. The email list is not customer
support or a bug list, where requests
are tracked and questions resolved.
The list is where we build social ties
and a communicative exchange around
Turkopticon’s bugs, repairs, strengths,
and futures. Building solidarities is
one way of countering HCI’s tendency,
as Dourish has argued [ 6], to take
market framings for granted; users
are not customers to be persuaded or
empowered through consumption.
Communication and maintenance
involve more than bugs to be fixed
or feedback to be contained and
managed. It can be a site for generating
collectivities and shared understandings
around objects of common concern—
the design intervention. We call on HCI
researchers to see technology design’s
potential for sustaining new polities that
can become powerful foundations for
social change. Designing and sustaining
these technologies are not just ways of
making technological things. Keeping
Turkopticion going has also generated a
web of relationships of common cause,
out of which other kinds of solidarities
might emerge. Those relationships
will remain, at least for a while, even if
Turkopticon, the technology, one day
ceases to exist.
DOI: 10.1145/2627392 COP YRIGHT HELD BY AUTHORS. PUBLICATION RIGHTS LICENSED TO ACM. $15.00
Thanks to Steve Jackson, Erik
Stolterman, and Daniela Rosner
for their suggestions on this piece.
The National Science Foundation’s
Graduate Research Fellowship
Program, the California Institute for
Telecommunications and Information
Technology (CALIT2), and the Donald
Bren School of Information and
Computer Sciences at the University of
California, Irvine, provided financial
and institutional support.
1. Irani, L. The cultural work of microwork.
New Media and Society. Nov. 2013;
2. Star, S.L. and Ruhleder, K. Steps toward
an ecology of infrastructure: Design
and access for large information spaces.
Information Systems Research 7, 1 (1996),
3. DiSalvo, C. Adversarial Design. MI T Press,
4. Dunne, A. Hertzian Tales. MIT Press,
5. Jackson, S.J. Rethinking repair. In Media
Technologies: Essays on Communication,
Materiality, and Society. T. Gillespie, P.J.
Boczkoswki, and K. A. Foot, eds. MIT
6. Dourish, P. HCI and environmental
sustainability: The politics of design and
the design of politics. Proc. DIS 2010. 1–10.
Irani, L. and Silberman, M. S. Turkopticon:
Interrupting worker invisibility in Amazon
Mechanical Turk. Proc. CHI 2013. 611–620.
Martin, D., Hanrahan, B.V., O’Neill, J., and
Gupta, N. Being a Turker. Proc. CSC W 2014.
Do Tips for Requesters on Mechanical
Turk (a worker-run advice blog);
Lilly Irani is an assistant professor
of communication and science studies at
UC San Diego. She earned her Ph.D. in
informatics at UC Irvine and prior to that
worked at Google as a UX Designer. Her work
focuses on the cultural politics of innovation
industries through intervention, analysis, and
M. Six Silberman is an informatics Ph.D.
student at UC Irvine. He works with Lilly Irani,
Jay Tolentino, and the Turkopticon community
to maintain Turkopticon and contribute to
research on crowd work ethics. He also
works with Bill Tomlinson and Bonnie Nardi to
contribute to sustainability research in HCI.