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Building Platforms: management, organization and (in)justice

June 30, 2021 15:00
June 30, 2021 16:30

Luca Perrig, University of Geneva; Loïc Riom, Mines-ParisTech


Jessica Pidoux, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne ‐ EPFL

Loïc Riom, Mines-ParisTech

Luca Perrig, University of Geneva

In recent years, platforms have emerged as an issue of concern and controversies in both academic and public spheres. As a form of market, the platform model is now ubiquitous, ranging from social media to ride-hailing. By providing an interface between multiple parties, they promote interactions through the design of their matching and pricing mechanisms. For their proponents, platforms are generally viewed as a way of improving the organization of information, thus solving a wide range of social problems. On the contrary, their critics argue that they create injustices, undue market power, and labor rights infringement. With the recent lockdowns, people had to turn away from the brick-and-mortar economy towards e-commerce. The reliance on online platforms has never been heavier. It has made the downsides of this model more visible, and more controversies have arisen.

Numerous works have focused on the impact of platforms on employment and consumption. The effects of platforms has been already extensively examined for their effects on markets (Srnicek, 2017; van Doorn & Velthuis, 2019), labor (Casilli, 2019), or their technical infrastructure (Van Dijck, 2013; Bucher, 2017). However, few studies have questioned platform from the point of view of the people that build them: entrepreneurs, developers, and managers. This panel aims to fill this gap. Rather than considering platforms as stable entities, they will be approached as an emerging challenge for entrepreneurs: What does it mean to organize a business as a platform? What does this model make entrepreneurs do? What kind of problems does it raise? What kind of agencement does it create? How can we characterize platform entrepreneurship? By bringing together different case studies from various sectors (music, food delivery, dating apps, food activism), this panel will aim to better understand how platform management shapes organizations and interactions. Particular attention will be paid to the way in which the platform as a metaphor (Gillespie, 2010) is used by actors to account for their activity and their business. In doing so, we will address how platform creators respond to social concerns - especially social (in)justices – and incorporated them into sociotechnological devices we use on a daily basis.

Expected speakers: Tanja Schneider (UniSG), Laetitia Della Bianca (UNIL), Jessica Pidoux (EPFL), Thomas Jammet (UNINE)

Analyse des variables déclaratives de la rencontre en ligne et des pratiques de développement : un double mécanisme mimétique et distinctif¹. 

Jessica Pidoux, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne ‐ EPFL

Les variables déclaratives de description de soi ont une longue tradition dans les médias d’entremise, en anglais matchmaking. Avec l'avènement des plateformes de rencontres en ligne et leur positionnement de marque, le volume et la sémantique des variables varient considérablement d'une application à l'autre. Elles servent à la fois à la « représentation » des utilisateurs.trices et au développement des algorithmes de recommandation, définissant ainsi l’économie attentionnelle affective et leur concept d’innovation. Cependant, jusqu'à présent il a été absent dans la littérature une cartographie multiplateforme de variables permettant une visibilité et une compréhension de la structure de la rencontre en ligne offerte. Bien que les entreprises protègent leurs algorithmes par le maintien du secret commercial (ou indirectement par la propriété intellectuelle, protection du code source ou brevet du système comportant l’algorithme), ces variables constituent une vue partielle sur ceux-ci car elles permettent la collecte de données personnelles en entrée pour appliquer des calculs. Dans cette étude, plus de 300 variables déclaratives de 22 applications de rencontres anglophones et francophones sont examinées. Des méthodes mixtes sont utilisées, combinant une classification hiérarchique et une analyse des entretiens avec neuf fondateurs et développeurs de l’industrie de la rencontre en ligne. Il est présenté deux typologies, l’une de variables en neuf catégories (ex. capital individuel, capital socioculturel en ligne, dynamique de relations) et l’autre des applications de rencontres en quatre classes (communauté sexuelle, rencontres rapides, engagement total, diversité), qui met en évidence un double mécanisme mimétique et distinctif dans la définition des structures et reflète le marché de la rencontre. À partir des entretiens, il est identifié trois facteurs principaux : (i) le cadre économique et sociotechnique des pratiques de développement, (ii) l'expérience personnelle des acteurs, (iii) les méthodologies de développement, y compris les traces d'utilisation des applications, qui influencent ce mécanisme. Ce travail apporte une nouvelle perspective sur l'analyse de l'intersection entre les développeurs et les utilisateurs.trices de la rencontre en ligne qui est médiée par ces variables. Cette médiation fortement influencée par le marché pré-conceptualise en partie les recommandations algorithmiques et l’utilisation des plateformes qui en découle.

Référence: à paraître. Pidoux Jessica, Kuntz Pascale et Gatica-Perez Daniel, “Declarative variables in online dating: a mixed-method analysis of a mimetic-distinctive mechanism”, ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW).

Présentation adaptée pour ce programme à partir du travail conduit en collaboration avec d’autres scientifiques.

Scaling a “global music platform”: secret gigs, live music and the platform metaphor 

Loïc Riom, Mines-ParisTech

In recent years, platforms have emerged as an issue of concern and controversies within the music industry. Several authors discussed how streaming platforms shape the way music circulate and is formatted (Morris 2015, Heuguet, Eriksson et al., 2019). Others examined how the “platform economy” affects musical employment (Azzellini et al., 2019). However, there is still little research on how “musical platforms” work on a daily basis and how they change music consumers, intermediaries and musicians’ practices. Based on a participatory ethnography of Sofar Sounds’ secret gigs, this paper aims to capture how the “platform” metaphor actively shapes the way actors build music worlds.

Sofar Sounds is a London-based company. It organizes “secret shows” in “intimate” and “unconventional spaces” – coworking spaces, offices, living rooms, shops, art galleries – in more than 440 cities worldwide. Sofar Sounds present itself as a platform allowing both spectators to discover artists and musicians to promote their music. This paper explores how such a platform is functioning through a complex infrastructure. Following how the platform articulates artists, venues, technicians and spectators in order to make an event happen, it emphasizes the different operations that allow Sofar Sounds to gather these various entities in the same place. It analyzes what the platform metaphor allows and makes Sofar Sounds do. The platform acts as a cultural engine that makes Sofar Sounds being both mobile and scalable (Tsing, 2012).

The management of information within food delivery platform

Luca Perrig, University of Geneva

Most of the sociological literature addressing the gig economy takes workers as its entry point. As platforms themselves are difficult to approach, field work mostly consists of interviews with workers (Seaver, 2017). This often leads to a depiction of platforms as almighty actors, able to optimise the workflow by gathering loads of data that is processed using sophisticated algorithms. This paper will rely on an observation within a food delivery platform as well as interviews with top managers from several such platforms in Switzerland. It will allow us to put into perspective the role of digital devices in the building of markets.

Platforms seek to conclude a maximum number of transactions. In this endeavor, they will gather a substantial amount of personal data from its users. However, the information provided by this data is still insufficient to secure every transactions. Some will fail to find a courier ready to accept it. This problem of information has traditionally been studied in the case of planned economies (Mirowski \& Nik-Khah, 2017). By justifying their role as mere intermediaries, platforms have claimed that the information provided by  digital devices is sufficient to rely on a market setting. But is it really? This paper will show the multiple obstacles that platforms face in this regard, from invisible data to data friction (Baym, 2013; Edwards, 2010).


This paper relies on a fieldwork that consisted in a prolonged engagement for several platforms as a bike courier (6 months), observation in the offices of a delivery platform (one month), and interviews with workers (n=24) ans platform managers (n=12) in French-speaking