Positive Platforms

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= "Marina Gorbis and Devin Fidler from Silicon Valley based Institute For The Future, identified eight principles of Positive Platforms design". [1]

The Principles

Marina Gorbis and Devin Fidler:

"Based on this research, we’ve begun to identify some principles that could guide Positive Platforms Design:

1. Earnings maximization.

We should design to optimize opportunities for those working on the platform to increase their income streams. Connections between design choices and earnings are not yet fully understood. Research has suggested, for instance, that for some types of work people do not do as well financially when the platforms set minimum wages as compared to when workers can set their own wages. Research by Arun Sundararajan and others, as well as our own observations, suggest that platforms that allow workers to organize their own small enterprises, rather than those in which workers merely serve the needs of the platform, tend to generate higher levels of incomes for platform workers. AirBnB’s design and photography services that help property owners make their listings more attractive is one example of a platform helping people maximize earnings, resulting in higher profits for AirBnB as well as for individual property owners.

2. Stability and predictability.

We are in a phase of prototyping and experimentation in platform design, a practice that is key to Silicon Valley’s style of innovation. But in the case of platforms this innovation has a direct impact on people’s livelihoods. Imagine if every month you came to work and your salary were different; this is exactly what many on-demand workers experience today. Participants in our study, for instance, described shifting pay structures with only a few days’ or no prior notice. While experimentation may be the necessary phase in platforms evolution, it is important to think about the human costs of such experimentation and build mechanisms for minimizing or compensating workers for ensuing volatility.

3. Transparency.

We need transparency at two levels: at the level of the platform algorithm itself (so that workers understand how to increase their earnings) and at the level of archived data (so that those working on platforms understand how their personal data is being used). Many people we interviewed reported how difficult it was to figure out how to maximize their earnings on platforms due to the general opaqueness of the algorithms powering them. Workers may consequently have trouble calculating out their actual hourly wages or whether it is worthwhile for them to take on certain tasks.

4. Portability of products and reputations.

People working on platforms should be able to own the products of their work and their reputation histories, and carry them from platform to platform. Platform reputations are often directly tied to earnings as well as opportunities for various types of work. This is how one research participant describes the experience of “losing” a reputation as well as the accompanying confusion when a platform was acquired by another company: “All of my portfolio links are broken now, and I don’t think people can find me anymore.”

5. Upskilling.

While traditional career ladders may not be relevant in the world of on-demand work, people still look for opportunities to increase their levels of skill and expertise. The best platforms already show those who work on them pathways for learning a particular skill and connect people to resources for advancement. Upwork, for example, not only provides forums for people to mentor and provide support for each other but also links them to free and paid courses where they can acquire desired skills.

6. Social Connectedness.

Many of today’s workers are creating communities outside of the platforms where they work to exchange tips and connect with each other. Reddit, Facebook, Google Groups, and other social media sites are becoming de facto places for this. As one person we interviewed said, “I think it’s important for me to build a relationship with the people that I work with.” Mechanical Turk workers have come together on a series of forums to not only create a sense of cohesion but also to advocate for their rights. Platform designers can make this easier by enabling and fostering such communities.

7. Bias Elimination.

Networks are at the core of what makes platforms work. Unfortunately, networks can be exclusionary (due to clustering of people with like minds and backgrounds) and polarizing (because more connected nodes tend to draw even more connections). In formal organizations, decades of labor struggles and court rulings established some basic rules and principles for non-discriminatory hiring, promotion, and so forth. We need to evolve such rules and principles in platform environments. In fact, because of vast amounts of data platforms accumulate, they may be in a good position to integrate mechanisms for surfacing bias as well as eliminating it. Models for this come from some recent startups such as Degreed which can match people to job opportunities independent of their degrees or demographic characteristics, or Unitive, which has developed software that helps spot unconscious bias in job descriptions language.

8. Feedback mechanisms.

It is hard to negotiate with algorithms, and most platforms do not have HR departments for handling everyday issues workers encounter, from late payment to unfair reviews. Platforms need to establish feedback mechanisms and equivalents of customer support services for those working on them. “If I were starting an Internet company or designing an app for something,” one of our respondents commented, “I would say that we must have phone customer service 24/7.” As platforms come to dominate more sectors of the economy, customers and workers alike will come to expect effective means for providing feedback." (https://medium.com/the-wtf-economy/design-it-like-our-livelihoods-depend-on-it-e1b6388eb752#.s40t0ip2q)


Devin Fidler:

"We cannot be passive bystanders to the future of work, hoping that current work platforms, as admirable as many of them are, can evolve into what we need as a country: positive platforms, which we define as on-demand work systems that are intentionally designed to maximize the benefits for everyone connected to them — including, and especially, their workers.

Our simple rule of thumb is that the positive externalities of these platforms can be designed to outweigh their negative externalities.

Collaborating with industry and policy leaders, we are now striving to ask the right questions about this technology — and develop the answers most likely to promote positive platforms.

Are There Standards That Promote Balanced Economic Development That Can Be Feasibly Adopted By Emerging Platforms?

We see great promise in pricing models that don’t commoditize individual tasks, but instead align the interests of the platform with its workers. For instance, a commissions-based model similar to how entertainment agencies operate, where an agency’s revenue is a flat percentage of their client’s earnings. Operating in this way, platform owners would be directly incentivized to maximize their platform workers’ revenue.

How Can New Work Platform Technologies Be Applied To Achieve Socially Positive Outcomes?

We are already seeing platforms that strongly suggest the answer to this is Yes. For instance, as much of the U.S. education system remains in financial distress (both for students and colleges), the crowdsourced platform Duolingo applies a Mechanical Turk-type translation work model that enables teaching languages to its users for free, with incredibly impressive results. (According to the company, there are more people learning language on Duolingo’s platform than in the entire U.S. public school system.)

Similarly, it is not difficult to imagine the immense matchmaking power of on-demand platforms being used to address issues like underemployment and even overall GDP growth, by more dynamically matching people to work and training opportunities.

These are very tentative answers, and much more research is needed. It’s our hope that industry and policy captains continue coming forward to work with us, sharing their data, wisdom and statecraft, so we can better cultivate this technology in a direction we all support.

Ultimately, our traditional corporate/organizational structures are themselves a technology — one that was mostly designed to coordinate mass industrial production. As digital platforms provide new ways of coordinating economic activity, they will upset many of our assumptions about how work and organizations “should” behave.

Our task over the coming decades is to amplify their opportunities while mitigating their challenges. Only together can we design new structures all of us can live with — and work in." (http://techcrunch.com/2015/08/20/what-we-need-to-know-about-on-demand-work-platforms-before-regulating-them/)

Upskilling through Positive Learning Platforms

Simone Cicero:

"I will continue using Airbnb as a reference example (as we did on framework launch), because I definitely think it’s one of the most well designed platforms around, and it sports an excellent learning path that participants can experience.

Phase 1 — Onboarding the Platform

The first phase of interaction with a Platform is, with no doubt, onboarding. Despite every platform is different, there are recurring onboarding issues such as understanding how the platform works, assessing your own gaps for participation and solving them, start transacting. When you enter the platform as a guest in Airbnb you experience the key onboarding challenge of making the first booking. Airbnb’s neighborhood guides, coupled with an impressively crafted soft coaching that the platform provides to newbies (embedded in the platform UX) usually helps Airbnb travelers off the ground. Later on, the platform holds for you the possibility to both: grow as a traveler (learning how to book faster and better) or evolve into a host. People also can signup directly as a host: onboarding as a host means basically make the first guest booking happen. The far-famed free professional photographer service that the company provides to eligible hosts helps them get started in style and is definitely to be considered part of an “onboarding service” targeted to hosts.

Phase 2 — Getting Better on the Platform

If you know Airbnb well enough, you’ll know that the company has an impressive set of support initiatives to ensure its hosts grow, get better and provide better experiences over time. City level meetups and even a worldwide festival called Airbnb Open aim at connecting hosts and encouraging learning and peer to peer knowledge and experience sharing.

Helping participants getting better and — therefore — help the best among them emerge from the crowd is a key feature of platform businesses. According to Tim O’Reilly analysis of platforms:

“when you open the market to an unlimited number of suppliers, you must invest in reputation systems, search algorithms, and other mechanisms that help bring the best to the top.”

In this frame, Airbnb Super Host badge, a badge that only the best performing hosts achieve, is definitely a way for participants to stand out of the crowd and leverage on their capabilities, performance and reputation.

How to become a Superhost: performance, experience, commitment.

Getting better, for platform participants generally means to “grow their knowledge, accelerate performance improvement, and hone their capabilities” according to Hagel. It’s a phase which is definitely focused on two major outcomes: learn how to make the best of the platform (beat the competition and accumulate trust and reputation), and develop new capabilities that can give you access to new opportunities inside or outside the platform.

Phase 3 — Catching New Opportunities

But what happens when participants get better and develop new capabilities? The third phase is mostly about making the most of the acquired capabilities, learn how to generate more value out of them and, eventually, align more with specific (and personal) interests and drivers. The most successful platforms provide participants with paths for the exploitation of the new potential they develop inside the platforms itself. Airbnb again gives us a clear example of this: the just introduced City Hosts feature.

City Hosts is a way for hosts to develop “immersive experiences”: thanks to this feature hosts can use several of the skills they acquired thanks to the platform (such as providing customer excellence, care, curation, timeliness, precision…) and combine them with their own passions and competences, creating compelling experiences in the context of food, craft, entertainment, exploration…moving from the hospitality layer towards unforgettable travel experiences, evidently climbing the value chain ladder and catching new opportunities of professionalization." (https://stories.platformdesigntoolkit.com/platforms-are-engines-of-learning-4f7b70249177#.hop6azwth)

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