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Project Description

Crowded is an montage audio program similar to radio shows like This American Life, The Moth, or the productions of Joe Frank.  What makes it unique is that all of the material is is made up of segments of audio requested from and submitted by workers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk site in return for payment.  I have made one incomplete episode as a test.  You can listen to it here:

Crowded - Episode 0 - (beta)
(I apologize for the audio quality of the first story - you have to listen very closely to hear what he is saying.  I will fix it eventually, but this was fine for this proof of concept)

Time Date Worker ID Song Filenames
4:10:00 1/15/2009 A21Y3YW3PIFA Julian Fane - Exit New Year Jonathan01.mp3
15:55:00 1/14/2009 A3QG4E1VG413GV The Dead Texan - Girth Rides a (Horse) BethH01.mp3
14:09:00 1/14/2009 A3PIP9BPN0R408 Muddy Waters - Mannish Boy jmostyle-record-omp46f45fm3c.mp3
Justin01.mp3 and Justin02.mp3
1/15/2009 A20R672MXJ9NMJ Freescha - Holiday Frost smashmazing-upload-1c334g2yq51w.mp3
1/15/2009 A312KFQ78WB3A4 Freescha - Holiday Frost StewieRadio.mp3
A1CUT3GA914MXU Secede - Big Day Out Junebugbetty-record-wzpoxgzbb48a.mp3
AWP2TKTG82IX8 Julian Fane - Exit New Year FaeJinx-record-uzaf469qb42t.mp3

Each episode has a mechanism or a theme.  For the test episode, I asked workers to listen to a collection of songs.  After listening, they picked one that reminded them of an important event in their life, and then recorded themselves telling that story.  You can see the HIT (Human Intelligence Task - the instructions given to the workers) at the bottom of this page.  The tentative list of future themes are all listed below in the prouction timeline.  Some of them have nothing to do with labor or MT.  Some are very self-conscious.

tuerke3The workers are given around $5-$10 to follow the directions like the ones below, depending on the complexity of the task. The jobs usually involve recording some audio. Depending on the assignment, they will use either a custom-built recording applet or a commercial conference call service.  When I receive the audio, I (with the help of Graham Reznick, an audio engineer) organize and edit the results into a professionally produced radio show.  Although it would be interesting to keep these results as raw as possible and strive for objectivity, I have decided that I would rather focus on creating an intriguing show.  Except where the theme specifically calls for it, I will not give up editorial privileges.


After doing several projects using crowdsourcing (Dirt Party, Invisible Threads, You’re So VIP) that essentially use workers as a faceless labor force only slightly better than a computer, I wanted to do a project that was about the actual people who are doing these tasks.  Who are they?  Where do they come from?  Why do they do these jobs?  The dynamics of “buying” a story via Mechanical Turk are interesting to me.  Do I own the story?  What kind of stories do you get from workers  who are ultimately looking at the estimated time vs. payment bottom line?   You could argue that I am still not humanizing them - that I am simply exploiting their willingness to tell personal stories for a few bucks.  But this project isn’t really taking a position in terms of the ethics of online labor markets.  It’s simply the MT system - which most believe is a kind of foreshadowing of a labor paradigm that will inevitably become much more common in the future - in a way that I think is more interesting and rewarding than most of what I have seen.  Most of the workers who respond to my requests are very excited to have been asked to do something that requires a little more creativity and thought.  The trick will be to bring out something unique about the kind of people who do this kind of work.  The average person doesn’t know what crowdsourcing is, and especially doesn’t care to hear strangers talking about uninteresting topics.  So the concept alone won’t make this project successful.  The tentative themes below are intentionally being left somewhat vague so that, when I gain a better understanding of the workers , I will be able to craft a show scenario that will coax better material out of them.

The end result will be a CD of these shows along with a small pamphlet or booklet about the workers who contributed, and any thoughts or research that I accumulate over the course of the show.  Because I don’t want people who wouldn’t normally be on MT to accept the tasks, I will release the entire collection after the project is done.   I will also release the MP3s of the shows and all of the source audio on the web.  With the help of Rhizome, I hope to one day hope to pitch this to WNYC as a series that they can play on air.

Project Budget & Timeline

I would like to make 1 episode per month for 1 year, starting in September of 2010.

Episode Budget

  • $100 for stories (roughly 5-10 workers @ $10/job to get enough usable content)
  • $200 audio editing
  • $50 audio/hosting services (conference call lines, media server, etc.)
  • TOTAL: 1 episode costs around $350

Main Budget

  • 12 Episodes: $4,200
  • Jingle composition: $800
  • Printing booklet: $300
  • TOTAL: $5500


I will complete one episode each month and send it out to a small list of people for comments.  The following are the tentative themes for each month.

  1. September Listen to a series of songs, choose one that reminds you of an event in your life, and then tell that story.  The stories will be collected and played on top of the song that you choose. (11 calls @ $8)
  2. October Answer the following questions (20 calls @ $4)
    1. describe your immediate environment
    2. how/when did you working on MT?
    3. how do you plan on using the money that you receive for this work?
    4. record 2 minutes of ambient audio from somewhere nearby
  3. November Call me and have an argument about a topic I give you.  I will edit myself out, leaving only your side of the argument. (5 calls at $12)
  4. December Call this conference line.  You will be joined by 2 other workers.  Your character is [fill in a character].  During the course of this call, you must [plot point 1], [plot point 2], [plot point 3].(I’m not quite sure how I will orchestrate this one yet, so it is very tentative - 6 calls @ $15)
  5. January Use the recorder below to record yourself answering the following questions:
    1. Who do you think I (the Requester) am?
    2. Do you ever think about the people who give you the tasks that you do on MT?
  6. February Use the recorder below to record yourself reading from your favorite book. (12 calls @ $5)
  7. March Use the recorder below to record yourself talking about previous jobs that you have had. (10 calls @ $8)
  8. April Use the recorder below to record your first name, your last initial, and where you live.  (This show will focus on quantity rather than quality.  250 calls @ $0.5)
  9. May TBD
  10. June TBD
  11. July TBD
  12. August The ubiquitous “best of” show.

Resume or Curriculum Vitae

Please see my CV here.

Work Samples

Sample MT HIT

Tell me a story

I am working on a radio show called This Mechanical Life where all of the material comes from Mechanical Turk workers.  And I need your help!  Just follow the 6 steps below.

  • Listen to the songs below.
  • Think of an event in your life that reminds you of that song.  This could be any story, but it should be important to you, or something that you think other people would enjoy hearing.
  • Find a quiet room where you won’t be disturbed
  • Tell me your story! Follow the instructions below to record the story. Some tips:
    • Please dont mention the song that you chose while telling your story, or even that the story you are telling was inspired by a song.  Just tick the circle below and the song will play underneath your story.
    • You can use either your computer microphone or a telephone.
    • The story should be between 8 and 15 mins.  Please try to stay on topic and don’t ramble.  That being said, just relax and don’t rush through it.
    • Speak up, speak slowly, and speak clearly.  No bonus will be given if I can’t understand what you are saying.
    • Do not play the song while you are recording.
  • Tell me how you recorded it here.
    • if you called the phone number, put the number from which you called here.
    • If you used YouTube, put the URL here
    • If you used HoundBite, put the URL in here
  • If you wish to be credited in the final production, please enter your information here.  I cannot guarantee that your story will be used, or that it will not be edited or re-told.  But don’t let this dissuade you!  If you have a problem with any of this, let me know and I will work with it.

The Songs (also available at

This text will be replaced

Freescha - Holiday Frost
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The Dead Texan - Girth Rides a (Horse)
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DNTEL - Last Songs
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Julian Fane - Exit New Year
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Microstoria - Edu
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The Octopus Project - What They Found
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Secede - Big Day Out
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Am-Boy - Turning Of Season
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Neoangin - Trippy Disco
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Ratatat - Brule
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Ratatat - Bird Priest

Recording Options

  • Leave me a message. The maximum length is 3 minutes. You will have to call back a few times.
  • Use YouTube QuickCapture.  You don’t have to even be in the frame as long as the audio is clear.  The maximum length is 10 minutes.
  • HoundBite is like YouTube for audio.  So if you really don’t want to record a video, this is your solution. The maximum length is 15 minutes.

Inbox Zero Merit Badge

Inbox Zero Merit Badge

From my brother. He sent it two weeks ago, and I was hovering around 20 messages. He is visiting on Tuesday, so I had to have it ready by then!

Bomb Magazine Cover

The Spring 2009 (#107) issue of Bomb Magazine includes an interview I did with Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonano of the Yes Men.  You can read the whole interview on Bomb Magazine’s website, but it looks nicer in the magazine.

Here’s an excerpt:

SL So, when you two are doing these speaking gigs, do you basically play the same character each time? I know for each one you have to use different names, but as “actors” do you imagine them to be the same people? What goes into creating these businessmen characters?

MB If you look at someone like Jack Nicholson, he always seems like he is sort of the same even when he is playing different characters. I think we must be something like that.

AB Except that we can’t act.

MB Right. What I meant was that if we were actors, it might be like that. The fact is that we have no clue what we are doing when we are up there. Luckily, the audiences think we really are who we say we are, so there is no need to act at all. And our character development has no particular method. It’s there in some intuitive way, but we don’t think too much about it.

SL Are the projects that have been big in the media—Dow Chemical and New Orleans, most obviously—are those working against a secondary message you are trying to communicate to activists? Which is that this strategy might be worth considering, and that it’s totally within reach? Neither of you have any real formal training as “imposters” and from what I have gathered hanging around y’all for the past year is that this is very much a seat-of-the-pants operation.

MB Yeah, we barely have pants at all, really. Anyone could do stuff like this, and in our movies that comes through, I think.

AB Which encourages a lot of activists, not necessarily because they want to use the same methods, but because they see how the world of big business is not a fortress . . . it’s a house of cards.

Anyone who has followed this blog obviously knows that I am still working at Eyebeam, which means I was awarded a Senior Fellowship.  It started some time ago, but Eyebeam is making a celebration out of it for the Senior Fellows and the incoming Residents.

Eyebeam awards more than $175,000 in stipends to 10 artists working at the intersection of art and technology. The artists will be honored during an invitation-only reception and presentation.

6:00PM, March 26, 2009
RSVP here
Eyebeam, 540 W. 21st St. (btw 10th and 11th Aves.)

New York City, March 11, 2009-Eyebeam is pleased to announce the recipients of its 2009 Senior Fellowships and Winter/Spring Residencies, who will be honored during a reception at 6:00PM, March 26. Stipends totaling nearly $175,000, as well as 24/7 access to Eyebeam’s state-of-the-art new media design, digital research, and fabrication studios have been awarded to 10 artists to support performance, experimental film, wearable technologies, open culture, and sustainable art.

“Eyebeam is really periscopic in terms of spotting interdisciplinary talent,” said Martin Duus, Eyebeam’s director of strategy and development. “The program is unmatched in the degree of support it provides to artists and creative thinkers exploring the impact of technology on contemporary culture,” he continued. “The 200 or so alumni are ample evidence that the program continues to be a launching pad for many successful careers in the art world and beyond.”

The unique, invitation-only reception will offer an entry point into Eyebeam’s unparalleled, highly competitive residency and fellowship programs, as well as a chance to tour the labs, meet and speak with the artists, and learn more about their work and areas of focus.

The event will take the form of short presentations complemented by viewing stations displaying elements of the artists’ past and current projects. Speakers will include Executive Director Amanda McDonald Crowley and Alexander Galloway, Eyebeam alum.

I’m honored and tickled that a group in Germany has used our utopic future newspaper concept! I believe Andy and I talked briefly with some people in Germany who were planning something…

From Deutche Welle

Anti-Globalization Group Circulates Faked German Newspaper from 2010

What will the world be like a year from now? Left-wing activist group Attac publicized their ideas by printing realistic-looking copies of a prominent German newspaper — dated May 1, 2010.

Attac activists distributed 150,000 copies of their faked, eight-page version of the German weekly Die Zeit in over 90 cities across the country.

With the top headline “At the end of the tunnel,” the paper presented reports the group said it thinks can become reality within 13 months.

Today’s news about the global finance crisis, world hunger and climate change leave a lot of people feeling helpless, said Attac member Jutta Sundermann.

“We fast forwarded time and wrote about the news we want to read about tomorrow — not about some distant paradise, but about concrete changes that are conceivable and attainable,” she added.

Articles describe the beginning of a “new era,” where banks have been nationalized, the Group of 20 industrialized and emerging countries see eye to eye, and polluters are taken to task.

Detailed print and online imitations

Attac mimicked the weekly newspaper’s format down to the last detail, though the final version was a bit smaller. They also recreated an equally detailed online version.

Die Zeit said it would not take legal action against the group.

“Naturally, we can never endorse an imitation of Die Zeit in print or online, particularly not in quality as good as this,” said the paper’s editor-in-chief, Giovanni di Lorenzo. “But it’s not surprising that Attac chose Die Zeit for this campaign, as it’s the largest national newspaper of quality.”

The paper has a circulation of over half a million.

In a similar campaign, the American activist group Yes-Men published a false version of The New York Times.
The Attac version’s website is

I just realized that I am going to be spending roughly 40 of the next 60 days on the road.  If you are in any of these places, please get in touch!

  1. March 20th-23rd Washington DC - visit the ‘rents
  2. March 29th - April 4th Chicago - Chiacgo Roadshow
  3. April 8th - 14th Liverpool - FACT Climate for Change
    1. Denmark - quick trip while in Liverpool for EnterAction conference
  4. April 23rd-26th Austin - visit my brother
  5. April 29 - May 1st New Mexico - visiting the IFDM program at UNM
  6. July 10-22 (ish) Gijón, Spain - Invisible Threads will be a part of the upcoming exhibition called FEEDFORWARD - The Angel of History curated by Steve Dietz, Christiane Paul. The show will run from July 17th through January 11th, 2010 at LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial, Gijón, Spain with an opening reception and symposium during the opening weekend.

Chicago Roadshow Poster

Michael Mandiberg on the Staten Island Ferry Michael Mandiberg on the Staten Island Ferry

(Ferry photos by Cynthia Chris)

Michael Mandiberg on the Staten Island Ferry

I’m not sure whether to be honored or totally embarrassed, but the College of Staten Island marketing department decided I was photogenic enough to put my picture on an ad that is on the Staten Island Ferry

The Postmasters Show on


Bright Bike on:

Trends Update
Core 77

Dooby Brain

Digital Foundations on:

The Current Buzz

I FFFound out that one of the cover designs ended up on FFFound