Just a response to a paper I’ve read related to human-computer interface design — one that hit me where I live, or used to.
“Soylent: A Word Processor with a Crowd Inside” describes a software project that amends the dreaded Microsoft Word with some crowd-sourced editing assistance. “Writing is difficult,” the authors observe — yeah, welcome to my world — before adding: “When we need help with complex cognition and manipulation tasks, we often turn to other people” (1). Sometimes we have support systems in place for this assistance, but sometimes not. The Soylent project crafts just such support for any writer-user, utilizing Mechanical Turk workers to farm out editing, proofreading, and formatting tasks to others.
Need someone to read over your paper — because you need suggestions as to what can be cut, because you want to make sure all the proverbial i’s are dotted and t’s crossed, because if you comb through your citations one more time your head will explode — but maybe you’ve called in that favor already or don’t want to risk bothering a colleague? Launch Soylent, which hires its invisible labor force to handle the work for you, perhaps in the dead of a deadline night.
What struck me about this project is how it attempts to replicate something electronically that has existed professionally for more than a century: the newsroom.
I'm THOMAS CONNER, Ph.D. in Communication (Science Studies) and culture journalist.