So I’m killing two birds with one stone here, I said I would mention this article I read in Wired last weekend and I also need to come up with a paper proposal, this is me doing both.
The article that I am referring to dealt with the Wiki-Leaks labor model and suggested that what provides the website with content is not a paid labor force but rather a collection of individuals working and providing information out of a shared ideology or shared support of the site’s revolutionary project. The article went on to suggest that despite the community effort which keeps Wiki-Leaks provided with information, the actual control of the site and its content is reserved for its founder, Julian Assange, who retains final say over what gets posted and what doesn’t. So, while the work which powers Wiki-Leaks is done as a shared community project, the regulation of the sites content is closely monitored by one person.
The author of the article goes on to suggest that this structure must become more egalitarian or Julian Assange will quickly become one of the elite his website seeks to challenge. While this challenge to Julian Assange is interesting, what is more compelling is this articulation of the model of labor employed here. The work done by Wiki-Leaks contributors reflects a number of free labor practices employed in digital space. Obviously the Wiki model itself is predicted on community participation and contribution but taken more generally forum participation, YouTube posting, Blogging, Facebooking are all examples of free labor provided out of a shared community interest.
Considering this participation as an example of free labor it seems that beta testing also functions as a space in which free labor from a community of users is channeled for particular corporate endeavor. Indeed, in beta-testing the link between free community labor and private benefit is more apparent than in forum participation or wiki contribution. Considering that beta testing has become a fixture in contemporary product development a study may consider the development of beta testing as a form of free labor essential to digital product development, a labor which changes the relationship between tester and product and consumer. (Patching and use as perpetual test/labor cycle? Maybe. Affective relationship to labor? Less sure about that.)