Carnegie Mellon Finds Crowdsourcing Can Aid Productivity

May 14, 2012

ScienceDaily reports on research from Carnegie Mellon University in “Picking the Brains of Strangers Helps Make Sense of Online Information.” The study found that building on the work of others does, in fact, improve the quality of one’s own work. That concept has been around at least since ancient Greece, but crowdsourcing on the Web brings it to a new level. Aniket Kittur, assistant professor in Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute, is quoted as saying:

“Collectively, people spend more than 70 billion hours a year trying to make sense of information they have gathered online. Yet in most cases, when someone finishes a project, that work is essentially lost, benefitting no one else and perhaps even being forgotten by that person. If we could somehow share those efforts, however, all of us might learn faster.”

Wasted effort is certainly something to be avoided, especially in today’s culture. The study had subjects (Microsoft employees, in fact) make knowledge maps of certain online information. Sometimes they had to create the map from scratch, sometimes work with one that someone else had made, and sometimes with one that four people had worked on previously. It should be no surprise that those who got a head start through the work of others produced higher quality work.

See the write up for more specifics from the study, including observations on eye movements and forming mental models. Very informative.

Crowdsourcing is a wonderful tool—when it makes sense. We remain on the fence about asking crowds for information about brain surgery. Seems imprudent.

The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, Microsoft, and the Center for the Future of Work at Carnegie Mellon University.

Cynthia Murrell, May 14, 2012

Sponsored by PolySpot


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