The old new challenges of online labor

Posted: April 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: research work | 2 Comments »

This is an updated version of an older post that I wrote on some of the inherent tensions and contradictions pertaining to online labor (including, but not limited to service interactions) that I’ve seen manifested in my data. I’ll be doing a presentation on this material at AoIR 12.0.  Please contact me if you’d like additional information.

Freedom versus Control:  Every Little Click You Make

For the online laborer there are tensions between increased freedom and intensified control.  You have enhanced flexibility to work anywhere (provided that you have a smart device and an Internet connection), anytime.  However, your online employer has many tools at his/her disposal for monitoring and controlling your behavior at work.  Your communication (calls, messages) can be easily recorded, and most likely is.  Such digitized information can also be quickly and easily archived and shared, meaning that there are potentially semi-permanent records of your work and/or interactions out there in cyberspace for others to see.  Companies can monitor the exact amount of time you spend on any given task, as well as the degree to which you adhere to scripts and protocols.  While your thought process may be private, not every little click that you make is.

Independence versus Dependence

For the online laborer there are tensions between independence and dependence.  On the positive side, now more than ever before you might have increased options as to who you’d like work for, for how much, for how long.  Is your employer on the other side of the planet?  No problem — you work from home, or your local coffee shop or Internet café or library.  You can do the work when and where you like.  On the negative side, you might be giving up any chance of job security.  Freelance service providers are a dime-a-dozen and can be cut off at any time, with no explanations provided.

Identity Management

For the online laborer there are tensions around identity.  Workers might have more control over their identity management, since they can potentially choose what information to share about themselves online.  Gender, ethnicity, age, accent, appearance – all of these may (finally) be moot points to the employer.  Or maybe not.  With online labor it seems to me that there is more potential for an organization to control and manipulate your online identity for their own purposes.  It might not matter to the company who you really are, but for customer service purposes maybe they need to present you (through icons, scripts, insinuations, etc.) to clients in a particular way.  Think of the cultural masking that goes on at call centers, for example.

Technology:  Making Work Easier or More Difficult?

One of the common tropes about technology is that it makes work easier, faster, and more efficient.  But does it?  In my own research, I’ve found that technology can actually make some tasks more complex, more unwieldy, and more difficult to complete.  For the online laborer, there may be increased pressure to do more work at a faster pace than ever before, with less and less time for reflection and analysis.

Culture versus Procedure

There is no doubt that technologies are connecting more and more people around the world, and that all of us, especially those of us involved in online service interactions, are engaging in more and more intercultural communication.  In terms of conflict though, is culture really the sticking point? Scholars often make culture out to be a major stumbling block, but in my research I am finding that it’s actually procedural knowledge (by which I mean information about how to do online interactions) that causes the most confusion.

The Great Question of Scale and Quality

Technologies allow online laborers to reach out to more and more people and they provide support for more frequent and convenient contact.  As companies scale their online service, however, contact potentially becomes less and less personalized.  Organizations might find themselves in the position of having to script personalization into their interactions, which arguably makes them less natural, and therefore less appealing to customers.  For those in charge of writing and/or evaluating an organization’s customer service scripts, decision trees, flow charts, etc. this issue is naturally one of concern and importance. It’s also an area where focused communication research can really pay off.

Zotero for capturing and archiving webpages

Posted: April 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: research tools | 2 Comments »

I have heard positive reviews of Zotero for years, but being a steadfast EndNote user I never tried it out.  Yesterday I finally got my first look at it, and yes — it does indeed look like a very useful tool.

Briefly, Zotero and EndNote are both tools for managing and publishing bibliographies, and are thus of great use to students, writers, academics, etc.   The two have similar functionalities, but Zotero is free, open source, and cloud-based.  EndNote, on the other hand, costs money to buy and to update, and it’s stored locally on your machine.  I don’t have any complaints with EndNote, and plan to keep using it.  However, Zotero has a number of special features which EndNote doesn’t have, one of which I want to mention today:

Zotero can capture and archive webpages.  Learn more about that functionality here.

Now isn’t that pretty cool?

If you are researching webpage content, this could be extremely useful for you, since by using Zotero you can easily capture and store such pages for later analysis.

A few caveats:

Zotero won’t capture links, moving pictures, audio, etc.  I don’t think you can use Zotero’s search functions to search within the text of the captured webpage.  (Note:  I was wrong about this — you can.  See comments below.  Thanks, Avram and Adam!)   (Speaking of which, have you tried out Evernote?  Evernote is another great tool for capturing and archiving webpages, and all the content captured is searchable.)  Finally, Zotero is not an analytical tool.  For coding and analysis, you’ll want to import the data into another program, such as AtlasTi, TAMS Analyzer, etc.

Remember now, Zotero is designed first and foremost for archiving (scholarly) sources; it wasn’t created to do website analysis, hence the drawbacks mentioned above.  However, as a “getting-started-on-your-website-analysis-project” kind of tool it might come in handy.

If you are interested in learning about tools for large scale website analysis projects, see my colleague Laura’s website here.

TAMS Analyzer help

Posted: April 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: TAMS | 1 Comment »

If you need help using TAMS Analyzer, I recommend that you:

  • get a (completely free) copy of my “getting started with TAMS” documentation by emailing me at:  blog4 [at] tabithahart [dot] net
  • download all of the documentation that Matthew Weinstein, the creator of TAMS, has written. Go here and click on the “Download” link and then the “Complete Documentation” link.  The complete documentation, made up of a dozen or so documents, covers a wide variety of TAMS-related topics.
  • see Matthew Weinstein’s video tutorials here.
  • contact Matthew and ask to be added to the TAMS Analyzer mailing list that he maintains.

Have you backed up recently? Time Machine and MobileMe

Posted: April 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: equipment | Comments Off on Have you backed up recently? Time Machine and MobileMe

Computer crashes, hardware failures, outages, obsolescence, theft, breakages — we don’t plan for any of these unfortunate situations to throw a wrench into our research and writing, but they do happen.  Perish the thought that the work that we’ve sweated blood into disappears without a trace.

So have you backed up recently?

I have two backup systems in place for use on my Macbook, both of which work very well and neither of which requires much attention at all.

  1. At home I have an external hard drive assigned to Time Machine.  Time Machine is a beautiful piece of work.  Once you set it up it will automatically back up your files at regular intervals. Even better, it preserves this information hour by hour, day by day, archiving rather than overwriting each subsequent back up.  Let’s say I want to see my system as it was saved on March 29, 2011.  It’s simply a matter of entering Time Machine, scrolling through the archived dates, and clicking on the one I want.  Maybe I want the 12:01 PM save or the 8:55 PM save? Not a problem.  (Hence the name “Time Machine”.)  When I’m at home working I back up every 15 minutes or so.  When I come home from a day of working away, I simply connect my laptop to the external hard drive and do one back up for the entire day.  Of course, if something happened to this external drive (if it was stolen, say, or violently shoved off the desk by my cat) I’d be in trouble so…
  2. I also use MobileMe in combination with MobileMe BackUp to store data in the cloud.  The particular MobileMe account that I have gives me a limited amount of space, so I’ve only earmarked a few important files (my dissertation, for one) to be stored.  Every day at the appointed time, my laptop connects to MobileMe and pushes my files out to the cloud, where these files overwrite the ones from the previous back up. For this to be accomplished my laptop needs to be switched on at the appointed time, and it needs to be connected to the Internet.  This solution is much more limited than Time Machine, of course, but it provides me with a back up to my back up, if you see what I mean.

I recommend both Time Machine and MobileMe, just as I strongly recommend having multiple back up solutions.  Multiple solutions are especially important if you work in the field.  In my case I never travel with my external hard drive, so having a cloud-based back up for those periods when I’m collecting data is especially useful.

What back up tools do you use?

File conversion tool: Zamzar

Posted: April 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: research tools | Comments Off on File conversion tool: Zamzar

My friend Peg recently introduced me to Zamzar, a free web-based tool for converting files.

Has anyone out there tried it?

I’ll post a review after I’ve tried it out.

Should you use TAMS?

Posted: April 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: research tools, TAMS | 4 Comments »

Recently I’ve had a spate of emails from researchers interested in using TAMS Analyzer.  As with the adoption of any new tool, people wonder if they should take the leap and invest their time and energy into learning how to use it.

I’ve been using TAMS for nearly a year now, and am happy with it.  I have used it to analyze a large data set comprised of interview transcripts, lesson transcripts, forum posts, text-based chats, and articles.  Using TAMS I have coded more than 4,000 segments of text.  I find TAMS an excellent tool for organizing and coding (first level, second level, etc.) my data.

Here are my reasons for using TAMS:

  1. I found it awkward to switch back and forth between a Windows-based application and my native Mac apps and desktop.  When first shopping around for qualitative data analysis software, I really wanted to use AtlasTi.  AtlasTi is the tool of choice in my department and across my institution at large.  I bought a copy of it and ran it on my Mac using VMWare Fusion.  VMWare Fusion is one of a number of handy programs that allows you to run Windows-only applications on a Mac.  This setup worked just fine, but it hogged my laptop’s memory and thus slowed the application’s performance.  Also, I frequently needed to access information from my native Mac applications and desktop, and it was klunky switching back and forth between those and my virtual machine.
  2. TAMS is written specifically for Mac OSX.  After the experience above, I decided that I only wanted to work with a tool that would run directly on my Mac.  There’s not a lot of choice out there, and…
  3. TAMS is free.  It doesn’t get much better than that.
  4. I’m doing this project on my own, so I don’t need a tool that facilitates collaboration.  As a Mac user, if I did ever want a tool that would ease the tasks of sharing, discussing, and analyzing data, I might opt for a web-based tool like Dedoose.  Note that TAMS does support collaborative projects — I just haven’t tried out those features myself.
  5. I’m happiest working on my own machine, which I can easily carry around with me.  If I didn’t have a portable machine, or if was working on a number of machines at different locations, I’d probably use a web-based tool like Dedoose.

I’m not saying that TAMS is perfect.  Choosing a qualitative data analysis tool, however, is not about finding perfection.  Rather, it’s about selecting a tool that is well-suited to your circumstances and your needs.  You take into account your data set, your analytic approach, the equipment you’re working with, the people on your team, etc.  For my particular needs, TAMS has been a good match.