Massively Amateur Creativity

[Funding Agency: NSF #1002772]

Software tools that support creativity have traditionally been designed primarily for small teams of professionals. However, with the rise of the Internet and inexpensive computer systems, the use of these tools is leading to new creative collaborations, where creative activity is distributed not across a small team of professionals as in the past, but rather across tens of thousands of people around the globe, many of whom are non-professionals. In this research, the investigators reconstruct the history of two such massive collaborations–one involving short movies about video games and the other involving a massive online crafting community–to understand how their phenomenal success evolved.

There is considerable interest in the scientific community in such large-scale collaborations. Many research problems today involve massive data sets and computational power. Solving these problems requires the collaboration of thousands of researchers around the world, rather than collaboration among the members of a small team in a lab. The online communities the investigators are studying have found ways to distribute their productivity on a massive scale and found success with it. This research seeks to understand and model that success. Such a model could lead to the design of software tools to support massive creative collaboration, e.g., in the sciences, as well as helping to clarify the organizational and communications environments needed to support them.

Intellectual Merit: To investigate the creativity of network-enabled mass-scale amateur collectives. Outcomes: We (1) extended theories of collective intelligence beyond information processing and textual production to include multimedia creativity; (2) developed systematic methods to identify and collect the most influential multimedia exemplars; (3) constructed an analytical methodology by blending sequence analysis with content analysis; (4) explored how designing/making semantically and syntactically dense artifacts contributes to knowledge production.

Broader Impact:  We made public new data about massive scale creativity; involved these communities directly in our research, exposing them to scientific methods; provided welcome visibility to the creative achievements of groups overlooked in the media and scientific research.

Notable Outputs: The research produced 2 books, 8 journal articles, 29 conference papers, 22 workshop and panel proposals, 6 book chapters, 47 talks, 5 keynote addresses, 2 Best Paper awards and 3 Honorable Mention awards.