Researchers seek more effective crowdsourcing with ‘flash organizations’

Flash organizations were created by the teams of Stanford professors Melissa Valentine and Michael Bernstein (Courtesy of Michael Bernstein).

Stanford researchers have developed a new model for collaborative work — dubbed flash organizations — aimed at making crowdsourcing more structured and thus more effective at solving complex problems.

Crowdsourcing harnesses a group of people to accomplish tasks that need a large amount of manpower. Applications of the increasingly popular technique vary widely: A crowdsourced disease research project launched by Stanford scientists, for example, distributes the massive computing power required to investigate protein folding by getting people around the world to run software on their personal devices.

Like crowdsourcing, flash organizations also recruit many people in a short period of time, but they seek to move beyond the simple, specific tasks that crowdsourcing outsources due to its reliance on laypeople. Instead, flash organizations draw on a more organized assemblage of experts.

“Traditional crowdsourcing can’t be applied to the most important goals that we, as humanity, want to pursue because these goals are open-ended and complex,” said Michael Bernstein ’06, assistant professor of computer science, in a Stanford News article. “They simply cannot be predefined and cannot be broken down into thousands of independent parts. They require adaptation, re-planning and change that’s incompatible with traditional crowdsourcing.”

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