Design by Bot: Power and Resistance in the Development of Automated Software Agents

R.Stuart Geiger


In this paper, I discuss how Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) have enabled new modes of software development that complicates traditional distinctions between developers and users. Coders can build bots, scripts, scrapers, extensions, aggregators, and other tools that change how software applications, platforms, and protocols operate – all without requiring privileged access to software codebases. In Wikipedia, user-authored bots and tools perform a staggering amount of the work required to keep the collaborative encyclopedia project operating in the manner that it does. Bots remove vandalism and spam, alert administrators to conflicts, harmonize linguistic standards, and enforce discursive norms. In reddit, bots have recently emerged to provide new functionalities to the news aggregation and discussion site. I report on an ethnographic study of bot development and bot developers in Wikipedia and reddit, demonstrating the various ways in which the rise of automated software agents has enabled new forms of both power and resistance.

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