Tool boosts success of online collaborations by redistributing the burdens of leadership

Feb 20, 2013

The Web makes it possible for lots of people to collaborate on projects, but it doesn't make it easy to lead them. A Carnegie Mellon University researcher has developed a new tool that helps leaders see complex, collaborative projects through to completion by redistributing leadership responsibilities.

The tool, called Pipeline, makes it easier to assign, critique and track the progress of individual tasks within a project and makes it easy for leaders to delegate responsibility to others. As evidenced by a case study in which Pipeline was used to manage the production of a digital Advent calendar by 28 artists in 12 countries, the tool also makes it possible for many people to work collaboratively on a public, online project while preserving the surprise of the finished product. Others have used Pipeline to organize game design competitions, film and video projects and an international scavenger hunt.

A behind Pipeline relates to the notion of trust, said Kurt Luther, a post-doctoral fellow in CMU's Human-Computer Interaction Institute. Pipeline enables leaders to meter out different levels of trust to different individuals, giving up a degree of authority in return for greater accountability. Some individuals are trusted to create and lead tasks, while other members are limited to working on existing tasks.

"It's sort of like asking for forgiveness rather than asking for permission," Luther said. "As a leader, I can trust someone to make decisions on my behalf on some portion of the project, but if that person makes a mistake, I can see it."

Luther developed Pipeline as a Ph.D. student at Georgia Institute of Technology and has made it available for use as free, open-source software. It can be downloaded at http://pipeline.cc.gatech.edu/. He will discuss its inner workings and its implementation on Feb. 26 at the Association for Computing Machinery's Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and , CSCW 2013, in San Antonio, Texas. His report, co-authored with Casey Fiesler and Amy Bruckman of Georgia Tech, has earned a Best Paper designation.

Pipeline steers a middle ground between a traditional hierarchical organization, which vests trust in a leader, and a wiki website, where trust is shared equally. Neither quite fits the needs of online creative collaborations, such as those enabled by popular websites such as Newgrounds and Scratch. In these "collabs," the number of participants can be large and the participants themselves change from project to .

"A lot of these projects fail because the leaders become overwhelmed and drop out," Luther said, noting less than 20 percent of the projects in the Newgrounds community are completed. "If it's not fun, why do it?"

In addition to redistributing leadership responsibilities, Pipeline includes systems to streamline management. Online forums, for instance, can quickly become confusing when used to manage the work of many collaborators. So Pipeline provides an activity feed that compartmentalizes each task, enabling collaborators on each task to easily share comments and works in progress with each other instead of funneling them all through a single leader.

Luther said he intends Pipeline to help create a "marketplace" of projects and hopes collaborative communities will consider incorporating it into their websites. The tool makes it easy for people to see all of the projects in the community and to identify which ones need help at any given time, he explained.

Explore further: IBM unveils cognitive exploration to drive better business outcomes

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Nebraska welcomes new pipeline route

Nov 16, 2011

Nebraska's governor on Tuesday welcomed a controversial US-Canada pipeline now that it will be rerouted away from the state's sensitive wetlands, but environmentalists vowed to keep up the fight.

Proposed pipeline could cost jobs, not create them

Oct 03, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Claims of job creation by the TransCanada Corp. Keystone XL Pipeline are inflated at best and misleading at worst, according to a new report by the ILR Global Labor Institute (GLI) posted on its website.

Impact statement on US oil pipeline due in August

Jul 23, 2011

The US State Department said Friday it expects by mid-August to release a final environmental impact statement on a proposed $13 billion oil pipeline that would stretch from Canada to Texas.

Recommended for you

Smarter, quicker-thinking referees? There's an app for that

Oct 27, 2014

KU Leuven and UEFA, European football's governing body, have embarked on a four-year project to expand and fine-tune a web-based skills training platform for referees. Early results show that the application can improve assistant ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.