Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mass Collaboration and trust

Sociotechnical Problem Space

The sociotechnical problem space I chose is mass collaboration via the internet. Mass collaboration is the phenomenon in which a problem, challenge or idea is proposed and an undetermined number of people attempt to solve it or contribute to it. Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, (an example of mass collaboration itself) defines mass collaboration as “a form of collective action that occurs when large numbers of people work independently on a single project. The collaborative process is mediated by the content being created as opposed to being mediated by direct social interaction as in other forms of collaboration.”

Two examples of mass collaboration are Linux and the “Goldcorp Challenge”. Linux, the idea of Linus Torvalds, posted the kernel of the code on the internet for volunteers to make contributions to, thus creating and constantly recreating the operating system known as Linux. The “Goldcorp Challenge”, sparked by the success of Linux, involved Goldcorp Inc. posting all of their proprietary information regarding gold mining on their property for volunteers to give their best guess where the next large amounts of gold could be found. The prize money was substantial, but the results were astounding. People from all different professions entered the challenge and, in the end, located more than 8 million ounces of gold. Half of the targets identified by the participants had not been previously identified by Goldcorp (Tapscott & Williams, 2006).

Mass collaboration is seen by some as the end of profitability since no company can reap the benefits of something created by and available to the masses for free. However, it may also be seen as an opportunity to garner the experience and knowledge of a wide base of people that may have otherwise been impossible. Companies just need to find a way to combine their business model with this new way of creating.

Values Implicated

Many values are implicated in this problem space including, but not limited to, ownership and property, trust, autonomy, informed consent, and accountability. The value I want to focus on, however, is trust. Trust is defined by Friedman et al. as the “expectations that exist between people who can experience goodwill, extend goodwill toward others, feel vulnerable, and experience betrayal “(Friedman et al, 2006). Merriam-Webster defines trust as the assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.

The human value of trust is implicated in mass collaboration in many ways. People who contribute their ideas or information must trust that it will be used for its intended purpose. They will have to take the chance, or not, that the proposed project is what it appears to be and they may even feel it necessary to do some additional research on the company and the project to determine its trustworthiness. Another way that trust is implicated is when collaborating on a mass scale, how will you know whether or not the other contributors are trustworthy? How will you know whether or not their contributions are helpful or correct? You will either have to trust, do research, or hope that, if there is a company involved, they will be checking. Trust is also implicated in that contributors must trust that no one person will take all of the credit and/or profit for the resulting product or information unless, as in the case of Goldcorp, it is understood from the beginning.

There also always lays the possibility that if people can collaborate in this way to find gold, create an operating system or create Wikipedia, they can also collaborate to create things that are harmful as well.


Direct Stakeholders include:

Contributors/creators – The people who contribute to a work are the usually the most directly involved. They usually have the most say in how something will be created and sometimes how it will be used. They may not, however, stand to gain from the resulting work, which may also make them indirect stakeholders.

Producers/manufacturers – These include companies who may produce resulting work such as new drug therapies or, as in the case of Goldcorp., the company that will be mining for the gold the challengers found.

Consumers – the people who consume the work that has been created are sometimes as effected by the work as the contributors/creators. For in the case of drug therapies, it may save their life.

Indirect stakeholders include:

People close to the consumers – Friends and family surrounding a person who may have been given a second chance at life because a new drug was created as a result of mass collaboration would be considered indirect stakeholders.

Employers of the contributors – It is possible as a result of contributing to something in this way the work the person does at their full-time job may suffer. They may focus more on the collaboration than they do on their work.

Other products – Other commercially produced products whose value may change as a result of the work that has been created should also be considered as indirect stakeholders. For example, Linux may have taken away users/consumers from Microsoft.


Friedman, B., Kahn, P. H., Jr., & Borning, A. (2006). Value Sensitive Design and information systems. In P. Zhang & D. Galletta (eds.), Human-Computer Interaction in Management Information Systems: Foundations, (pp. 348-372). Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe.

Tapscott, Don, and Anthony D. Williams. "Wikinomics: The Art and Science of Peer Production." Wikinomics: how mass collaboration changes everything, (pp. 7-33). New York, NY: Portfolio, 2006.

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