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Mass collaboration is a form of collective action that occurs when large numbers of people work independently on a single project, often modular in its nature. Such projects typically take place on the internet using social software and computer-supported collaboration tools such as wiki technologies, which provide a potentially infinite hypertextual substrate within which the collaboration may be situated.
Modularity enables a mass of experiments to proceed in parallel, with different teams working on the same modules, each proposing different solutions. Modularity allows different "blocks" to be easily assembled, facilitating decentralised innovation that all fits together.
Mass collaboration differs from mass cooperation in that the creative acts taking place require the joint development of shared understandings. Conversely, group members involved in cooperation needn't engage in a joint negotiation of understanding; they may simply execute instructions willingly.
Another important distinction is the borders around which a mass cooperation can be defined. Due to the extremely general characteristics and lack of need for fine grain negotiation and consensus when cooperating, the entire internet, a city and even the global economy may be regarded as examples of mass cooperation. Thus mass collaboration is more refined and complex in its process and production on the level of collective engagement.
Although an online discussion is certainly collaborative, mass collaboration differs from a large forum, email list, bulletin board, chat session or group discussion in that the discussion's structure of separate, individual posts generated through turn-taking communication means the textual content does not take the form of a single, coherent body. Of course the conceptual domain of the overall discussion exists as a single unified body, however the textual contributors can be linked back to the understandings and interpretations of a single author. Though the author's understandings and interpretations are most certainly a negotiation of the understandings of all who read and contribute to the discussion, the fact that there was only one author of a given entry reduces the entry's collaborative complexity to the discursive/interpretive as opposed to constructive/‘negotiative’ levels
From the perspective of individual sites of work within a mass collaboration, the activity may appear to be identical to that of coauthoring. In fact, it is, with the exception being the implicit and explicit relationships formed by the interdependence that many sites within a mass collaboration share through hypertext and coauthorship with differing sets of collaborators. This interdependence of collaborative sites coauthored by a large number of people is what gives a mass collaboration one of its most distinguishing features - a coherent collaboration emerging from the interrelated collection of its parts.
Collective online tools
Many of the web applications associated with Bulletin boards, or forums can include a wide variety of tools that allows individuals to keep track of sites and content that they find on the internet. Users are able to bookmark from their browser by editing the title, adding a description and most importantly classifying using tags. Other non-collective tools are also used in Mass collaborative environments such as commenting, rating and quick evaluation.
In the books Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything and MacroWikinomics-Rebooting business and the world, Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams list five powerful new ideas that the new art and science of wikinomics is based on:
- being open
- acting globally
The concept of mass collaboration has led to a number of efforts to harness and commercialize shared tasks. Collectively known as crowdsourcing, these ventures typically involve on an online system of accounts for coordinating buyers and sellers of labor. Amazon's Mechanical Turk system follows this model, by enabling employers to distribute minute tasks to thousands of registered workers. In the advertising industry, Giant Hydra employs mass collaboration to enable creatives to collaborate on advertising ideas online and create what they call an 'idea matrix', a highly complex node of concepts, executions and ideas all connected to each other. In the financial industry, companies such as the Open Models Valuation Company (OMVCO) also employ mass collaboration to improve the accuracy of financial forecasts.
The role of discussion
In traditional collaborative scenarios discussion plays a key role in the negotiation of jointly developed, shared understandings (the essence of collaboration), acting as a point of mediation between the individual collaborators and the outcome which may or may not eventuate from the discussions. Mass collaboration reverses this relationship with the work being done providing the point of mediation between collaborators, with associated discussions being an optional component. It is of course debatable that discussion is optimal, as most (if not all) mass collaborations have discussions associated with the content being developed. However it is possible to contribute (to Wikipedia for instance) without discussing the content you are contributing to. (Smaller scale collaborations might be conducted without discussions especially in a non-verbal mode of work - imagine two painters contributing to the same canvas - but the situation becomes increasingly problematic as more members are included.)
Although the only widely successful examples of mass collaboration thus far evaluated exist in the textual medium, there is no immediate reason why this form of collective action couldn't work in other creative media. It could be argued that some projects within the open source software movement provide examples of mass collaboration outside of the traditional written language (see below), however, the code collaboratively created still exists as a language utilizing a textual medium. Music is also a possible site for mass collaboration, for instance on live performance recordings where audience members' voices have become part of the standard version of a song. Most "anonymous" folk songs and "traditional" tunes are also arguably sites of long term mass collaboration.
- Collective intelligence
- Digital collaboration
- Decentralized knowledge
- Mass communication
- Think tanks
Notes and references
- "Five principles for successful mass collaboration, part 2". Linux.com. 2008-04-01. Retrieved 2013-07-11.
- Kapor presentation, UC Berkeley, 2005-11-09:
The sudden and unexpected importance of the Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia created by tens of thousands of volunteers and coordinated in a deeply decentralized fashion, represents a radical new modality of content creation by massively distributed collaboration. This talk will discuss the unique principles and values which have enabled the Wikipedia community to succeed and will examine the intriguing prospects for application of these methods to a broad spectrum of intellectual endeavors
- Cover story: Google's Next Big Dream, Imagine what you could do with the world's mightiest computer, BusinessWeek, 2007-12-24.
- Plato, The Republic, Book VIII: "democracy comes into being after the poor have conquered their opponents, slaughtering some and banishing some, while to the remainder they give an equal share of freedom and power; and this is the form of government in which the magistrates are commonly elected by lot... "the forgiving spirit of democracy, and the 'don't care' about trifles, and the disregard which she shows of all the fine principles which we solemnly laid down at the foundation of the city... how grandly does she trample all these fine notions of ours under her feet, never giving a thought to the pursuits which make a statesman, and promoting to honour any one who professes to be the people's friend... "in what manner does tyranny arise? — that it has a democratic origin is evident..."  And see generally Eric Havelock, The Liberal Temper in Greek Politics (London: Jonathan Cape, 1957), (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964).
- Brüggermann, Stefan (2012). Collaboration and the Semantic Web: Social Networks, Knowledge Networks, and Knowledge Resources. Pennsylvania: Information Science Reference. p. 66.
- A. Désilets; L. Gonzalez; S. Paquet; M. Stojanovic (2006). "Translation the Wiki Way" (PDF). Proceedings of the WIKISym: 19. doi:10.1145/1149453.1149464. ISBN 1595934138.
- A. Désilets (2007). "Translation Wikified: How will Massive Online Collaboration Impact the World of Translation?". Proceedings of Translating and the Computer.
- Leadbeater, Charles (2008). We-Think – Mass innovation not mass production. Profile Books. ISBN 978-1-86197-892-9.
- Leimeister, J. M.; Huber, M.; Bretschneider, U.; Krcmar, H. (2009). "Leveraging Crowdsourcing: Activation-Supporting Components for IT-Based Ideas Competition". Journal of Management Information Systems (JMIS), 26 (1) 26: 197–224. doi:10.2753/MIS0742-1222260108.
- Laurie Taylor (Presenter), Charles Leadbeater (Guest) (2008-03-05). Thinking Allowed (Radio). London, UK: BBC Radio 4. Event occurs at start. Retrieved 2008-03-12.
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