Crowdsourcing offers a powerful new paradigm for online work. However, real world tasks are often interdependent, requiring a big picture view of the difference pieces involved. Existing crowdsourcing approaches that support such tasks — ranging from Wikipedia to flash teams — are bottlenecked by relying on a small number of individuals to maintain the big picture. In this paper, we explore the idea that a computational system can scaffold an emerging interdependent, big picture view entirely through the small contributions of individuals, each of whom sees only a part of the whole. To investigate the viability, strengths, and weaknesses of this approach we instantiate the idea in a prototype system for accomplishing distributed information synthesis and evaluate its output across a variety of topics. We also contribute a set of design patterns that may be informative for other systems aimed at supporting big picture thinking in small pieces.
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