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Business - Written by on Monday, October 6, 2008 9:00 - 0 Comments

Denis Hancock
HP Social Computing Lab on Crowd Sourcing, Attention, and Productivity

The HP Social Computing Lab has taken an interesting look at the dynamics of crowdsourcing in relation to content consumption. Noting that we are in the midst of an inversion from the traditional model where relatively few people produce content and the majority simply consume it, the authors seek to explore an apparent paradox – why growth in content provision continues to persist, given that the structure of crowdsourcing would predict a tragedy of the commons situation. More simply, given that we can all just sit back and free ride off of what everyone else is doing, why aren’t we all sitting back and taking the free ride?

In order to explore the problem, the authors look at a dataset of almost 10 million videos on YouTube, submitted by 579,471 people, as of April 30 2008. The key finding is that while one might look at a “digital commons” as a traditional public good, the individuals contributing to the digital commons may perceive their activity as a private good. In this mindset, they’re not necessarily getting money, but rather attention, which can essentially be looked at as a “currency” they are collecting. I would personally call this benefit reputation, as I believe it is the ability to build one’s reputation that is driving the majority of crowdsourcing activity, but it’s essentially the same point.

Now I won’t get into the nitty gritty of how they ran the test – but if you are fluent in things like alphas, p-values, and logs, the write up is fairly interesting (and quite short). I would like to highlight an interesting contrast in the findings though. As one would expect, the researchers found that when attention is low (i.e. few people watching your videos), productivity (i.e. # of videos you upload) drops, and in many cases wastes away to nothing. At this end of the spectrum, individuals compare themselves mostly to the performance of others. Increases in attention have the opposite effect (i.e. more people watching = higher propensity to upload)… and at this end of the spectrum, individuals compare themselves to their own previous benchmarks.

In other words, “bad” is determined in relation to others, but “good” is determined in relation to one’s previous record. Could be an interesting tidbit of information for people looking to grow their own crowdsourcing platform…

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