Filling the Pipeline
How can a hundred strangers create a video game, an independent film or even a political movement — together? With Pipeline — a new software tool developed by Carnegie Mellon University researcher Kurt Luther.
"With dozens, potentially hundreds of collaborators, often strangers from around the world, you need a way to connect them and give them the tools they need to work together," explained Luther, a post-doctoral fellow in CMU's Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII).
"You also need to manage trust issues — to give workers the power to get things done, but not bring down the entire project with one goof or malicious move."
With a background in computer graphics and design, Luther became interested in online creative communities. He discovered that while members were trying to develop collaborative projects, like animated movies and games, the websites were best suited to showcasing finished work, like "YouTube with a forum."
Managing via discussion forums often forced leaders into becoming either "benevolent dictators" or creating wiki-type systems completely reliant on social norms.
So Luther developed Pipeline, presented recently at the Association for Computing Machinery's Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing. His report [.pdf], co-authored with Casey Fiesler and Amy Bruckman of the Georgia Institute of Technology where he developed the software, earned a Best Paper designation from among hundreds submitted.
The tool not only allows for delegating leadership responsibilities among tasks — where one can upload works in progress, receive comments and keep track of progressive versions — but also an activity feed that posts updates automatically.
"I like to say that Pipeline is a cross between a project management tool — where typically a group of familiar coworkers use an online organization space — and a peer production platform," noted Luther. "And Pipeline is like a marketplace where people can create projects that they're hoping others will be interested in joining."
Already used in projects from video game contests to global scavenger hunts, Luther is offering Pipeline as free, open source software. He hopes his tool can be easily adopted and customized for use in numerous and varied online communities.
Luther came to CMU to continue his work in social computing where the university has "an impressive research group around social computing. It's really one of the front runners in the area," he stressed.
Currently working on two new projects using crowd sourcing — to help designers improve and to help researchers better understand unfamiliar topics — he's found the CMU interdisciplinary culture invaluable.
"Within the School of Computer Science, there is an amazing diversity of expertise," he said. "There are HCII people, machine learning people, robotics people, all who are excited and interested in helping."
"More generally, CMU is tremendous because not only is there top-notch computer science, but also programs like art, design and drama that help me connect my work with the research and theories that those folks are most interested in."
"I'm excited at the opportunity to let people know that this is a great place and that there's cool stuff going on here," he added with a smile. "Hopefully, in a year or two I'll have more cool stuff to tell you about."
Download Pipeline source code »