Understanding participation on a massive crowdsourcing platform

Hompage of crowdsourcing platform TaskCN

As time goes, we can see that crowdsourcing platforms gain momentum and attract both companies (seekers) and consumers (solvers). Some platforms are used to innovate in science (InnoCentive, Hypios, NineSigma), others to connect creatives and companies (Jovoto, eYeka, Poptent), and others are huge marketplaces of work or creative task (Mechanical Turk, Witmart, TaskCN). This blog post is about a piece of research that tries to understand participation on the latter platform: the Chinese marketplace TaskCN. What type of contests work best? Does more money attract solvers? And what role does peoples’ experience play in winning contests? Their finding can have strategic implications for designing online contest.



The dynamic timeline of online contests (Yang, Cheng & Banker, 2011)


In the begining of their paper, the researchers from Temple University (Philadelphia, USA) make a good point: “in most online contest markets, we observe that solvers are competing dynamically instead of simultaneously“. This means that, especially when you have lots of contests on a platform, you have to dig deeper to understand peoples’ participation. In their study, the researchers focus on two types of variables (1) participants’ expertise and (2) participants’ participation strategy, or temporal strategy.



The researchers make an interesting comparison: Submitting in an online contest is a bit like bidding on eBay ("early bidding" or "late bidding")


Based on quantitative analysis of data from 2006 to 2008, the paper presents some interesting finding about peoples’ participation in crowdsourcing. I’ve not listed all of them (I don’t want to copy/paste the paper’s content), but here are three of them:

  • Winning experience is a good predictor of winning in the future
  • Very early submissions and very late submissions have higher probability of winning than those in-between
  • Submitting strategies have no impact on winning in logo design contests, but they do in naming- and ideation-based projects


So participants who purposely wait before submitting something have an overall higher probability of winning. This is surprising, because one could think that early participants could benefit from the feedback that they receive, which gives them the chance to improve their entry and resubmit it. But that’s obviously not the case, and people tend to wait in order to get inspired by others and/or hide their entry from others.


Our study provides empirical evidence that in an online contest market, both a solver’s expertise and
strategy are associated with his probability of winning (Yang, Chen & Banker, 2011)


As often, the generalizability (or “external validity”) of the study is limited because it’s only about a specific contest marketplace. It seems that TaskCN shows the submissions to every other contest participant, allowing them to lurk around and copy others’ ideas. To solve this issue, we can see more and more platforms hiding the submissions to everyone else beside the creative and the client (of course). While this seems to be a good solutions, it also causes some frustration among creatives, who have less creative stimulation to create upon. Tricky situation than research hasn’t adressed to date, or has it?

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