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 who has an Internet connection. As the examples in this chapter show, these new forms of mass collaboration have already enabled real progress on important problems. Some skeptics may doubt the applicability of mass collaboration for social research, but I am optimistic. Quite simply, there are a lot of people in the world and if our talents and energies can be harnessed, we can do amazing things together. In other words, in addition to learning from people by observing their behavior (chapter 2), asking them questions (chapter 3), or enrolling them in experiments (chapter 4), we can also learn from people by making them research collaborators.

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

  • In human computation projects, researchers combine the efforts of many people working on simple microtasks 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 the range of people who can organize large-scale projects and the range of people 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.