Category Archives: Change

Where are The People’s Software Systems?

History can be told as progressively greater rights aggregated rights over decades and centuries, rights not only vis a vis the government, but also more basic ones, physical and psychological, including the right to be an individual person with a meaningful life, to belong and be understood in a family and social context, to be safe, and to have fundamental needs of food, shelter, health care, environment, and self and cultural expression met.

More egalitarian and democratic institutions and systems are under continual siege from elites seeking greater power and privilege for themselves. Certain technological advances like the printing press allowed for communication and knowledge that lifted living conditions and human rights worldwide. Where is the leap forward that we thought would come from the Internet?

While the technology giants like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple have brought us some increased expression and communication, they have done so in a constrained and limiting manner.  Secret algorithms in closed systems are designed to bring them ad and other revenue, not to allow us the level of communication and organization needed to resist the corporate takeover of our political systems and the manipulation of our desires.

Organizing sites on the web are often oriented to single issues or tactics, with little aggregation or lasting effect.  Trolls dominate forums, paid by ad dollars, and sponsored by backward and corrupt political groups or governments. In the US, the Citizens United decision allows Corporations unlimited purchase of government officials. Identities are challenged at the polling booth, which, with Gerrymandered districts, gives Republicans purloined electoral wins.

Rating and reviewing has given some limited power to us as consumers, but the most effective work rating and review web site was bought by Glassdoor and eviscerated. Polling organizations, using sampling methodologies, are increasingly ineffective due to justified consumer suspicion (I hang up on them, do you?)

Where are the people’s applications, open source programs that allow effective expression?  Where is a non-government non-corporate utility that guarantees identity, allows anonymous expression, aggregation and publication of that expression, and organizing?

Much of the needed technology exists, but has not been put to use for the people.  The Aadhaar system in India demonstrates that, using biometric as well as demographic data, identity can be guaranteed, for political and economic purpose.  Blockchain technology, used by a company called Civic, shows that distributed data can be hacker proof.

Imagine a system that can protect and ensure individual identity, that can enable trustworthy polling and voting, that allows anonymous and identified ratings and reviews with self-organizing and other actions available.

glassdoor.com

glassdoor.com claims that it has 8 million reviews from 400,000 companies. This is a lot of reviews of a lot of companies. While Glassdoor makes its money from employers, it clearly has attraction to employee / reviewers.  When employees, past or current, write reviews about problems in their companies, they hope that management will solve them or they hope to warn off other prospective employees. Some reviewers of South Bay mental health say explicitly that these are their goals. While they may have succeeded in warning off prospective employees, they have never succeeded in getting management to improve.

Glassdoor is an example of a company using reputational power to engage employees. It uses employers’ need for employees to also use the site to help employers recruit new employees. Glassdoor helps employers make Glassdoor an attractive portal to their recruiting efforts. They do this by allowing employers to use their company graphics and logo in Glassdoor at the top of the reviews of their company, and in between reviews, they run ads to help companies recruit new employees. Past, current, and prospective employees need to write a review to gain access to the site content.  Prospective employees receive job posting ads via email from the companies they look at on the Glassdoor site.

Employee / reviewers hope that the reputational effect will cause management to improve pay and working conditions. Glassdoor allows this possibility but does not do anything to enhance this effect. For example, they do not track employers who do not change, they do not highlight the worst employers, they do not have standards of employee treatment, and they do not suggest anything that employees can do about their complaints.  Even employers identified by employees as breaking the law, being abusive, discriminatory, and who take public funds to deliver substandard services, get a free ride.

We can imagine a site that is focused on identifying the worst employers, schools, hospitals, and service providers; a site that allows employees, patients, and customers to easily find each other’s reviews and, if they desire, contact each other; a site that provides direct links to consumer groups, unions, friendly lawyers, petition sites, and others.  SaysUs could be such a site.

SaysUs – an idea that should not die

Anyone familiar with the web knows to check if a web site is still “alive” by looking at the date of the last post.  saysus.net has had little activity recently because it has not yet gained sufficient momentum to get to the next step.

I want to review the history of South Bay Mental Health and jobvent.com which provided the inspiration for SaysUs.

In 2010 I was working at a local high school as a psychotherapist. I saw kids who asked to see me, whose parents asked that I see them, or whose school staff asked that I see them.

In my experience, school seemed to be the perfect place for most kids to receive therapy. They were usually glad to get out of class, and my private office seem to provide a good environment for conversation, which sometimes led to meaningful change.

I saw kids for a wide range of reasons. While some relationships did not work out, most did and I had a full schedule.  Other therapists came into the school for the same reason.

Some of them worked for a company called South Bay Mental Health. I was aware that working conditions at South Bay were not great. One day a South Bay therapist asked me if I had seen the website jobvent.com. She encouraged me to go to the site and look up South Bay.

When I did so, I saw that many South Bay therapists had gone on to jobvent, given it low ratings, and expressed in reviews just how bad things were. I was happy to see that jobvent existed and that people could use it to anonymously reveal the truth of their situation, including the ways that clients were affected.

Here is a link to some of the reviews that I found on jobvent. http://saysus.net/southbay/

I had been a union activist in a previous career, and I found jobvent fascinating. A little while later I went back to jobvent to see if there were more reviews from South Bay and to read reviews from employees of other companies. To my surprise, instead of getting to the jobvent site, I was redirected to a site called jobitorial.com.

Jobitorial looked a lot like jobvent, but the more I explored, the more I saw major differences. For one thing, the average rating for South Bay had gone way up. I saw that some of the reviews that were there previously, had now disappeared. There was no acknowledgment or explanation on the site for why this had happened.

I also saw that new reviews and ratings could no longer be entered into the site. Again there was no explanation. The site continued to dish up ads and I realized that it was probably under new management. It had been turned into a ghost site, still capable of generating ad revenue, but hollowed out and no longer functional.

The average rating for every company, not just South Bay, had gone up and the reviews that had been there related to low ratings, had disappeared. My programming background allowed me to understand what had been done. The new owners had programmed the site to eliminate every rating below a certain number, including each review associated with each low rating. The proof was when I saw negative reviews with high rating scores that were still there.

Really, a major fraud had been committed by the new owners.  A naive user looking for ratings and reviews of their company or prospective employer, might find that company on jobitorial, with a system that purported to represent employee opinion, but which actually represented only management opinion.

Here are links to pages from Yahoo and Blogspot in which users react to what happened to jobvent.  from Blogspot: http://saysus.net/jobvent/    Yahoo: http://saysus.net/complaint-sites/jobvent-what/

Later, I discovered that it was Glassdoor that bought jobvent, renamed it to Jobitorial, and eviscerated the most important content.  Since GlassDoor does not reveal its business decisions, we can only speculate as to why they would do what they did.

We can notice that over time, glassdoor has made critical ratings and reviews less accessible. Whenever I have looked up South Bay on glassdoor, I have started receiving ads for jobs at South Bay.  Glassdoor makes money by identifying companies that people show interest in, and then promoting those companies to those people, independent of how bad ratings and reviews show those companies to be.

Wikipedia claims that “as of April 2015, 8 million reviews for 400,000 companies were submitted to Glassdoor, which has raised $42.2 million of outside funding.  I have never seen a claim on GlassDoor that they are trying to improve management practices in the many companies that are rated and reviewed on their site. I can also guess that content on sites like jobvent makes related content on glassdoor less attractive. It is a well established business practice to destroy competition. Thus we have what was an effective and transparent site, jobvent, obliterated to support GlassDoor’s profit making goals.

This history of jobvent, South Bay, and GlassDoor, illustrate the need SaysUs. We need a website that cannot be corrupted, that users can trust, and that can be used to do more than just reputational organizing. In the case of South Bay, which does not seem to have changed its poor practices in the five years that I have tracked it, either a union or legislation is needed. SaysUs can be created to facilitate both.

 

 

Rating & Review Systems

Rating and review systems have begun to create a transparency about what does and does not work for us in the organizations that affect our lives.

From 1 star to 5 stars, and from “this company should stop treating its employees like robots” to “this is the best company I’ve ever worked for”, rating and review systems give people a way to influence employers as well as product and service providers.

We learn what our co-workers or co-consumers have to say about a job or school we are considering.  We can find out if others are dissatisfied or satisfied, about a job or service.  And we can express anonymously our own experience and opinion.  Rating and review systems can help us meet important needs around work, school, health care, transportation, government, etc.

Businesses spend money to manage their reputation.  Some negative ratings have caused companies to improve conditions for employees and improve products and services in order to boost their reputation.  A good reputation helps to gain customers and employees, and a poor one can hurt.

There are hundreds of rating and review systems.  Most of them are part of businesses that use ratings as a way to attract customers. Some hire people to go online to boost their ratings. Employment sites, like Glass Door, allow reviews, but their focus is on helping companies, including those with poor reviews, to recruit new employees.  Companies like Yelp have been accused of removing negative reviews.

There are scattered non-profit sites designed to help one particular group, like potential union members or abused migrant farmers.  But there is no for-profit site that can be trusted to keep the trust of users, and no not-for-profit site that tries to be helpful beyond its target population.

We at says-us.net propose to create a trustworthy, not-for-profit, rating and review site that can be used to tell the truth about our experiences as workers and consumers.  From these ratings and reviews, we can see what needs to be changed, where, and by whom.

Future releases will allow people to contact each other, to propose action, and to find helping agencies and institutions, including those advocating union, political and economic action.  We will move from anonymous complaint to coordinated action.

 

 

Rate, Review, Act, Improve

This web site is a proposal to build web and mobile capability that will allow people to rate and review employers and providers of products and services like health care, education, housing, and transportation.

We focus on getting our basic human needs met. We will learn from positive reviews, and from the negative ones, we will be able to take action, by talking to each other, and by finding highly rated groups to help us, like unions, tenant organizations, health care advocates, and consumer groups…

In this way, we will change and improve our lives and the world, one employer, institution, company, hospital, school, government agency, and landlord at a time.

WSF-Discuss

A message sent to the World Social Forum Discuss list:

We have a project to build a really big pitchfork (as in, “the peasants have pitch forks and are storming the castle”).  Is anyone on this list interested in helping?

Take a look at says-us.net  .  Says-us advocates building a rating  + reviews + whistle blowing + organizing + action system, encompassing all domains of need.  Using the Foucauldian notion that institutions are born through problematization, says-us is a vehicle for self-expression, and problematization.  With that comes the abolition, modification, and creation of institutions.  Says-us addresses the question of “whose problem?” and “whose solution?” by giving voice and power to everyone with web / mobile access.

Any big thinkers and even bigger doers out there?