[SIGCIS-Members] Documentation of AOL in mid-1990s

Roberts, Sarah sarah.roberts at ucla.edu
Wed Sep 11 13:01:32 PDT 2019

Are you familiar with Hector Postigo’s work in this area?

This article continues previous work that analysed the case of America Online (AOL) volunteers from critical perspectives of immaterial and free labor, and incorporates newly acquired documents and interviews by the United States Department of Labor (DOL) with volunteers. Specifically, this article puts forth the AOL volunteers’ case as an instance of co-production that eventually met its demise when organizational changes resulted in the rise of a labor consciousness among some volunteers that made the ongoing relationship impossible. This article shows the types of co-productive labor that took place during the height of the AOL/volunteer relationship and the structures put in place to help AOL harness the power of a free distributed workforce. The research posits that the success of the co-productive relationship was a function of a balance between a numbers of elements: (1) the perceived reasonable compensation on the part of volunteers, (2) social factors and attitudes towards work such as a sense of community, creativity, and (3) a sense of accomplishment.

And the earlier:

In 1995 AOL announced that it would be converting its pricing plan from an hourly rate that ranged from $3 to $6 an hour to a flat monthly rate of $15.95. The increase in member subscription was expected to be significant, and a wave of concern swept through the large remote-staff volunteer population, whose duties included monitoring electronic bulletin boards, hosting chat-rooms, enforcing the Terms of Service agreement (TOS), guiding AOL users through the online community, and even creating content using the AOL's own program, RAINMAN (Remote Automated Information Manager), the text scripting language and the publishing tool that allows remote staffers to update and change content on AOL. Chief among remote-staff volunteer's concerns was the initiative to convert many of the volunteer accounts from overhead accounts, which had access to tools and privileges that made remote-staff volunteers' duties on par with in-house employees, to unbilled or discounted accounts. In a meeting meant to address the emerging concerns of remote-staff volunteers held over electronic chat, Bob Marean, a representative for AOL, confronted over 450 remote-staff volunteers.



S a r a h  T.  R o b e r t s,  P h. D.

Assistant Professor
Co-Director, UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry

University of California, Los Angeles
Department of Information Studies
Graduate School of Education & Information Studies

Behind the Screen (Yale University Press)

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On Sep 11, 2019, at 12:45, Avery Dame-Griff <avery.dame at gmail.com<mailto:avery.dame at gmail.com>> wrote:


I've had limited locating these on my own, so I wonder if anyone has any suggestions: Are there archives (official or community-based) of documents related to America Online, especially during its mid-1990s boom? I'm especially interested in two things: A) Guides/Community Leaders' day-to-day practices around policing offensive content and B) AOL's relationship to independent community-oriented content providers (including compensation rates, contracts, etc.).

Some documentation of Guide practices and policies exists, but there's almost nothing about the latter - it's my suspicion most users didn't even know some forums were run by independent contractors.

Thanks in advance,
Avery Dame-Griff

Avery Dame-Griff
Lecturer, Communication Studies/Women and Gender Studies (Spring 2020)
Gonzaga University
Curator, Queer Digital History Project<http://queerdigital.com/>
avery.dame at gmail.com<mailto:avery.dame at gmail.com>
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