Colloquium Details

The Theory of Crowdsourcing Contests

Speaker: Jason Hartline, Northwestern University

Location: Warren Weaver Hall 1302

Date: October 19, 2012, 11:30 a.m.

Host: Richard Cole


Crowdsourcing contests have been popularized by the Netflix challenge and websites like TopCoder and 99designs. What is a crowdsourcing contest? Imagine you are designing a new web service, you have it all coded up, but the site looks bad because you haven't got any graphic design skills. You could hire an artist to design your logo, or you could post the design task as a competition to crowdsourcing website 99designs with a monetary reward of $100. Contestants on 99designs would then compete to produce the best logo. You then select your favorite logo and award that contestant the $100 prize.

In this talk, I discuss the theory of crowdsourcing contests. First, I will show how to model crowdsourcing contests using auction theory. Second, I will discuss how to solve for contestant strategies. I.e., suppose you were entering such a programming contest on TopCoder, how much work should you do on your entry to optimize your gains from winning less the cost of doing the work? Third, I will discuss inefficiency from the fact that the effort of losing contestants is wasted (e.g., every contestant has to do work to design a logo, but you only value your favorite logo). I will show that this wasted effort is at most half of the total amount of effort. A consequence is that crowdsourcing is approximately as efficient a means of procurement as conventional methods (e.g., auctions or negotiations). Finally, I will give a structural characterization of optimal crowdsourcing contests (in terms of procuring the highest quality work).

Joint work with Shuchi Chawla and Balu Sivan.


In-person attendance only available to those with active NYU ID cards.

How to Subscribe