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 (Karma, precious Karma!) image

Review A

Reviewer: Joseph Reagle

1) Is the subject matter relevant?

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

The subject matter is very interesting to me. Generally, the appropriate literature is made use of though I would recommend the following:

With respect to the objective/subjective assessment of code/prose see Stalder’s (2006) functional/expressive distinction. (“On the differences between open source and open culture.”)
The author’s might be interested in discussions of evaluation and quantification in a forthcoming chapter of my own . (However, it is not yet published and need not be cited.)
3) Are there any noticeable problems with the author’s mean of validating assumptions or making judgments?

Not that I discern.

4) Is the article well written?

The prose is syntactically and grammatically well formed. However, the overall structure and arguments could be more strongly framed and sentences and jargon could be simplified. On the first point, I felt that it is a long time before we actually get to the substance of the case and I felt at a loss as to where this was going. This is likely related to the fact that the article is long. No section need necessarily be excised, but I think with judicious editing 10 to 20% of the word length could be removed. Also, giving the reader a better clue that particular karma-whoring techniques and counter-strategies will be discussed could be useful.

This could be aided by focusing on what argument is the author making? rather than the more indirect and passive “this paper analyses internal meta-discourses …”. I’m not fond of speaking of papers doing things; the authors are doing something and I’d like them to make a more direct argument.

In terms of clarity at the sentence level, the prose is rather complex and could be simplified. Additionally, concepts are sometimes introduced that could use further substantiation. Below I note some issues the authors may wish to consider:

section 1

internally problematised: jargon
and even commute material gifts: like what, what does this mean?
The generated traffic functions as an incentive for embedded, commercial advertisement.: Could you give an example?
karmawhore: this term did not arise on Reddit, perhaps it’s emergence should be further contextualized (e.g., Slashdot)
section 2

And it has since operated… It later sold: the timing/history of these events is confusing
econometrization: while the term appears in the title, it’s never really defined
section 4

Web back then ‘. (Pelling): placement of period
we will describe exemplary approaches: exemplary often has a positive connotation, perhaps a different word?
An exemplary Karmawhoring-technique: okay, this is finally getting interesting
identifying and repeating broadly appealing content: this phrase confuses me within its sentence.
terminologically: jargon
section 5

One encounters a discrepancy between discursive assertions of a (historically founded) user mentality…: this sentence is tough to follow
functionalistic: jargon
5) Are there portions of the article that you recommend to be shortened, excised or expanded?

As noted, I believe the word count of the full article should be lessened (10,000 is a bit much).

Review B

Reviewer: Carolin Gerlitz

1) Is the subject matter relevant?

The paper adresses a timely and relevant subject matter – practices quantification and numbering in social media. The selected case of Karma points on Reddit and the associated negotation what these points stand for and how they can be accumulated poses an interesting example of the making of value and values in platforms. Addresses the phenomenon of numbering social dynamics, is not over-researchers and very much in line with the CfP.

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

The selected case, its documentation and the detailed engagement with features, user practices and user negotation offers a rich and intellectually interesting site for reflecting on the relation between value and currency. Yet, the paper does not use the opputunity to connect the case to relevant debates and key literature in the field and outlined in the CfP, so that the claims made about value regimes and currency are not entirely persuasive. It mainly draws on few established works on peer production (Benkler) or communities (Rheingold), whilst attempting to make larger conceptual claims about user motivations, gift economies, econometrics and currencies. To develop these in a persuasive manner and to use the potential of the case, the paper needs to situate itself more explicitly in existing debates.

The initial differentiation between intrinsic and extrinsic user motivation follows the relevant objective to make sense of divergent and differently motivated use practices of Reddit. However, it may be problematic as it is fist difficult to disentangle these and such detachment also does not work entirely with the recourse on Deleuze towards the end of the paper, where the authors draw attention to the ubiquitous and continuous presence of capitalism. How can one hold on to a clear delineation between intrinsic, authentic use practices and extrinsic, capitalist use practices if both fold into each other in a complex way? Further, such distinction also conjures up an understanding of too discrete subject, whos internal and social life can be delineated. Instead, a more closer engagement with debates around (economic) value as opposed to (social) values, as outlined in the CfP, would be more interesting here.

Further, the way Reddit is implicated in catering to and negotiating the various use practices of its features could contribute more directly to debates around politics of platforms and platforms as intermediaries, see the work of Tarletton Gillespie, Ganeale Langlois & Greg Elmer among others.

The discussion of the case further shows very well how measures, metrics and rankings are not descriptive and external to what they seek to measure but actually participate in it. While this argument is developed on a descriptive case level, it would be interesting to connect it to ongoing debates about the performativity of measures. Key references here are Espeland and Sauders’ work on reactivity of rankings, Donald Mackenzie (Do economists make markets?), or Michael Power (Audit Society) to account for how rankings enact dynamics of reactivity and self-fulfilling prophecy. The paper does draw on gamification to explain this dynamic, but debates around reactivity and commensuration would allow for a broader focus.

The fact that Reddit does not support reciprocity by showing responses as mere numbers on counters without providing details about the associated accounts is crucial and could be developed even further to explicate the specificity of this mode of value creation and reactivity – especially when drawing on the notion of gift giving through social media activities. Although I see the point to draw on the gift as a specific form of value circulation entangled with relationship making, the paper should position itself more clearly in relation to this concept. This can be accomplished by drawing on wider, primary sources on gift economies, but also by developing the related concept of the currency further.

The paper develops the argument that a new currency might be emerging in the context of Reddit, which transforms the intended use practices of the platform. Unfortunately, this claim is mainly made as a side note and it remains unclear what actually constitutes the currency in this case, the karma points or the post practices increasing one’s karma? Here, are more clear and detailed development how Reddit karma operates as currency, involving store of value, circulation and detachment from social relations would be desirable. Again, I recommend to create more explicit connections to ongoing discourses on currency in media studies and social theory, as well as reflecting on the relation between the currency and the gift – especially in the context of this special issue.

The final conclusions on the infiltration and intermingling of motives through the interplay of infrastructure and the issue of rejection are relevant and persuasive.

3) Are there any noticeable problems with the author’s mean of validating assumptions or making judgements?

The main concerns and suggestions regarding the validation of assumptions occur in relation to connecting the case to conceptual claims around currencies, user motivation, value and performativity, as addressed in the above section.

4) Is the article well written?

The article is coherently structured and follows a clear narrative. The quality of writing, however, varies across the article. Whilst the first third of the article appears at parts lengthy and would benefit from cutting and cohesion, the final section is more fluent. Overall, the text is mostly clearly written, but is overtly explicit about its structure and details what follows next – these sections appear repetitive and could be shortened. A further round of editing would allow for more fluent and cohesive writing, especially in the first parts. The overall flow and development of the argumentation is persuasive, yet more attention should have been paid to the introduction of conceptual claims, as mentioned above. The extensive use of description and direct quotes from the Reddit work in a productive manner – the examples are well chosen, interesting and allow various claims to be developed (further). The subheadings used in the first part are not always very helpful for orientation. Finally, I suggest to abstain from calling sections “chapters”.

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

As mentioned above, especially the first third of the paper comes with lengthy passages and conatins some repetition in terms of announcements what the paper sets out to accomplish. Especially the introduction would benefit if being more concise as it is fairly long, as well as section 3.

In terms of expansion, I suggest to expand the conceptual frameworks with an emphasis on issues of reactivity and the notion of the currency as discussed above, situating the paper in a wider theoretical framework.