The Journal of Peer Production - New perspectives on the implications of peer production for social change New perspectives on the implications of peer production for social change
Reviews (Producing a Knowledge Commons) image

Review A

Reviewer: Anonymous

This article is a well-structured paper with several clearly identified sections (literature review, methodology, etc.) which makes the reading clear. It is also well-written.

While the contribution of this paper might be of interest to the peer production literature, the paper as it stands is not ready for publication and needs major revision. At this point the data provided does not provide sufficient proof for the claim made. The author(s) can either tone down their claim or try to strengthen the articulation of their data to sustain their claim. I would also strongly recommend to change the abstract where it is claimed that unpaid labor organized via a para public institution, produces a Knowledge Commons that the author(s) affirm may be difficult for capitalist forces to appropriate.

The comparison on page 12 between the peer production logic at the Marie-Victorin Herbarium and Mechanical Turk seems unsubstantiated. These two “projects” are very different in scope, goal, and intention, among others. Moreover, thanks Trebor Scholz’s research and others, we now know that Mechanical Turk micro taskers are primarily poor white Americans and South Asians (mostly Indians) who by lack of economic opportunities engage with this platform. The author(s) does not make clear where s/he or they see the points of convergence. Additionally, since we know very little about the volunteers behind the Marie-Victorin Herbarium project the comparison about volunteering is problematic. The volunteers might be happy with the contribution that they make, but who are they? Are they privileged financially? Do they have the time to volunteer, and if so why? Can we know more about who are the individuals doing the voluntary work for Marie-Victorin Herbarium? Are they senior citizens, retirees, students, or a motley crew of volunteers? What are the genders of these individuals? This would be an important information to add to the paper. A paragraph for instance could be added in the methodology section. This would be a start for the reader to better understand the claims of the author(s). It would also enrich the theoretical section on peer production.

It would be worth exploring whether budgetary constraints in the Quebec and/or Canadian context has had impact on the fact that such collaborative project emerged. This is only mentioned late in the paper and only in passing: “In the context of scarce resources… (p.12)” Can we know more about whether this project used volunteers in part as a way to reduce the cost of such paid work? Even though the paper attempt to highlight the points of view of the volunteers this information would still be relevant.

The claims made by the author(s) that this peer production logic might be difficult to be recuperated by capitalism at this point is unsubstantiated. As a provocation – in an attempt for the authors to better argue their case – can we instead think that this logic is typical of capitalism? The fact that the curator and coordinator of the project are overburdened seems to be an indication that capitalism is well at work and might in fact easily be recuperated. Can we not think that in the future, para-public institution will start using such method to deal with scarce resources?

Moreover, is the perception of volunteers – that they are not exploited – enough to claim that capitalism is not at play here and cannot be (re)appropriated? As it stands the demonstration is not strong enough to make such claim. To take an easy example, Facebook users might not feel exploited by using the social networking site, they might feel it is a win-win situation, but we now know that the economic model of facebook is based on user content production. With a para-public institution it might in fact play out differently, but the demonstration given up to now is not strong enough for the claims made. If the author(s) are able to articulate her, his or their claim(s) better, then there could be a great contribution to the peer production literature. However, more work on the article is needed to suggest such claims.

Also, what is the public funding situation of the Marie-Victorin Herbaratorim? How has it changed in the past years? Has the Quebec and/or Canadian austerity measures affected its budget and how? There needs to be a paragraph written on the scarcity of financial resources.

An interesting Special Issue that might help the author(s) think through these questions is the recent work of Söderberg, J & Delfanti, A. (eds). «Special section: Hacking hacked!», Science, Technology & Human Values 40 (5), 2015. There introductory article aims at conceptualising the idea of recuperation (capitalist recuperation) and suggest that such a theoretical framework is a productive tool for analyzing the life cycles of digital innovation, including peer production.

In the section on digital labour scholarship, I would add the work of Ulises Mejias who not only talks about the concept of “playbour”, which might be relevant to examine in the case at hand, but also his demonstration that while the network seems to broaden participation it also exacerbates disparity and excludes more than includes. This demonstration is made in his 2013 book : “Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World”.

Museums and libraries are para-public institutions. It might be important to specify, because the Marie-Victorin Herbarium is not any kind of “institution”, it is a para-public one.

Finally, the figures were unfortunately missing from articles. It would be great to see them for the next iteration of the peer review process.

Review B

Reviewer: Steve Collins

1. Is the subject matter relevant?

Yes, the subject matter falls well within the scope of the Journal of Peer Production.

2. Is the treatment of the subject matter intellectually interesting? Are there citations or bodies of literature you think are essential to which the author has not referred?

The subject matter is intellectually interesting and engaging. The article’s literature review covers relevant critical theories.

3. Are there any noticeable problems with the author’s means of validating assumptions or making judgments?

There are no noticeable problems.

4. Is the article well written?

Yes, the article is well written. I spotted just one very minor typographical issue – Page 4, para. “The need to account …” – the apostrophe in Terranova’s is actually a single quote.

5. Are there portions of the article that you recommend be shortened, excised or expanded?

At present I think the article is very engaging but there are a few points that I would invite the author(s) to consider:

  • On page 4, para. “In the digital labor literature …” it would be useful to provide an explanation of “Mechanical Turk contributors” as not all readers might be familiar with this term.
  • On page 4, para. “In the case of social networking sites …” the author refers to a class action suit against Facebook. It would be useful to provide a couple of lines detailing the nature and outcome of the law suit.
  • On page 6, para. “Our paper is based ….” the author sets his/her methods. This needs to be flagged much earlier in the paper. In the introduction the author indicates that s/he has some sort of ‘inside knowledge’ of relationships and dynamics between the project’s workers (e.g. “Relationships between volunteers and the two paid employees – a curator and a collections manager – are not antagonistic”) but does not state how this known. Some indication of the method in the introduction would be very useful.

General Comments

While this is an interesting and engaging piece, it lacks tension. The central message is that ‘a group of individuals can come together for a collective good and work successfully’. It would perhaps benefit from providing some examples early on that illustrate how participatory labour can be exploited – this would provide a counterpoint to what the article’s message rallies against, thus more forcefully explaining that it doesn’t have to be like this and that this system can work if particular criteria are met. (I acknowledge that the author does point to this when s/he mentions Facebook and Google – see point b above, but these examples are not explored in much detail.)

Review C

Reviewer: Anonymous

1. Is the subject matter relevant?
Yes, the subject matter is extremely relevant since it focuses on a specific case of peer-production that is not only digital but also localized in a physical space (a museum), a geographical context (the geography of Canada and its flora) and an online space (the platform). This article can provide therefore insights on expanding peer-production in physical and geographical contexts.

2. Is the treatment of the subject matter intellectually interesting? Are there citations or bodies of literature you think are essential to which the author has not referred?
The literature review and the citations are comprehensive and the discourse clear.

3. Are there any noticeable problems with the author’s means of validating assumptions or making judgments?
The subject is very interesting because of its focus on a specific case of peer-production localized in a physical space, a geographical context and an online platform. The paper focuses only on qualitate interviews, which in this case are useful for understanding the experience and the motivations of the volunteers. Given the specificity of the case proposed, I would suggest, however, to improve the analysis by including these reflections:

  • on the importance of the location of peer-production
    • How much work is done inside the museum?
    • How much work is done at home?
    • What is the influence of the physical location on the number and dynamics of the process?
  • on the dimension of the whole process (the paper presents data about the content on the platform, not about
    the people involved):

    • How many people participate in the peer-production?
    • What is the budget of the process?
    • What would be the wage of participants if they were employed? What would be then the budget of the whole project? Regarding the quantification of volunteer work, see for example von Hippel, E., Jong, J.
      D., & Flowers, S. (2010). Comparing Business and Household Sector Innovation in Consumer Products:Findings from a Representative Study in the UK. SSRN eLibrary. [source]
  • Ultimately:
    • How is this peer-production process different from a traditional local volunteering?
    • How is the physical and geographical location affecting the peer-production process?

These might be out of the original scoper of the paper, but they could improve its analysis.

4. Is the article well written?
Yes, the article is well written, understanble and with a good flow.

5. Are there portions of the article that you recommend be shortened,excisedor expanded?
Beside the above suggestions (3.), I suggest to include at least a table summarizing the motivations of the interviewd volunteer interviewed and one or more table summarizing their different views. Authors could also include a picture depicting the organization of the workflow in the process and of the interactions among the participants, in order to further explain the organization of the work