Reflection – 7/21/08

I enjoyed Mike Culver’s presentation, especially regarding Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk). I began to think about how MTurk is conceived of today and the NASA Clickworker experiment that Benkler mentions in Chapter 4 of the Wealth of Nations. While this may seem a natural coupling in thought, I wonder just how many much larger organizations, like NASA, are finding methods to parse existing work items out to MTurk Clickworkers (if you will)? One of the observations Benkler and others pose is that the smaller and more discreet an item of work is, the more likely you can get an average individual to sign up to “take the HIT”.


Another facet of this process is the simplicity of the item to be completed. The more simple it is, the less time it should take and the more likely that an average Clickworker can complete it; also, it is more likely that the same Clickworker may take numerous HITs to complete. Mark has mentioned in class that a friend of his has submitted a large number of wedding photographs to MTurk for a simple “Is this picture in focus or not?” assessment. I realize this may be a more taken-for-granted realization for some, but the idea of breaking certain work items into smaller and smaller pieces to enable this kind of work is fairly revolutionary where I work.

The discussion of the Himma article was particularly interesting to me when the subject of from which direction the two sides came and what they meant (that is, from information-to-free, the definitions of each, and the subtlety of the wording “should” versus “must”). While refraining from obsessing on definitions and semantics, I feel that clarity and agreement on these is critical in providing the most streamlined discussion. I spoke with Mark after class about the “feel” of the words “must” and “should” and what they can imply. The feel of “Must” is a kind of direct imperative, while “Should” feels like a morally positive option or suggestion. The latter feels more human, which may or may not be by design, but it doesn’t hurt the discussion to be arguing for the “more human” choice.

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