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5.6 Conclusion

Mass collaboration will enable researchers to solve scientific problems that were impossible to solve before.

The digital age enables mass collaboration in scientific research. Rather than just collaborating with a small number of colleagues or research assistants, as in the past, we can now collaborate with everyone in the world with an Internet connection. As the examples in this chapter show, these new forms of mass collaboration have already enabled scientists to make real progress on important problems. The applicability of these techniques in the social sciences remains an open question, but I am optimistic.

For the purposes of social research, I think it is helpful to divide mass collaboration projects into three groups:

  • In human computation projects, researchers combine the efforts of many people working on simple micro-tasks in order to solve problems that are impossibly big for one person.
  • In open call projects, researchers pose a problem with an easy to check solution, solicit solutions from many people, and then pick the best.
  • In distributed data collection projects, researchers enable participants to contribute new measurements of the world.

In addition to advancing social research, mass collaboration projects also have democratizing potential. These projects broaden both who can organize large scale projects and who can contribute to them. Just as Wikipedia changed what we thought was possible, future mass collaboration projects will change what we think is possible in scientific research.