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Soylent: A Word Processor with a Crowd Inside

By Michael S. Bernstein, Greg Little, Robert C. Miller, Björn Hartmann, Mark S. Ackerman, David R. Karger, David Crowell, Katrina Panovich

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 58 No. 8, Pages 85-94

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This paper introduces architectural and interaction patterns for integrating crowdsourced human contributions directly into user interfaces. We focus on writing and editing, complex endeavors that span many levels of conceptual and pragmatic activity. Authoring tools offer help with pragmatics, but for higher-level help, writers commonly turn to other people. We thus present Soylent, a word processing interface that enables writers to call on Mechanical Turk workers to shorten, proofread, and otherwise edit parts of their documents on demand. To improve worker quality, we introduce the Find-Fix-Verify crowd programming pattern, which splits tasks into a series of generation and review stages. Evaluation studies demonstrate the feasibility of crowdsourced editing and investigate questions of reliability, cost, wait time, and work time for edits.

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1. Introduction

Word processing is a complex task that touches on many goals of human-computer interaction. It supports a deep cognitive activity—writing—and requires complicated manipulations. Writing is difficult: even experts routinely make style, grammar, and spelling mistakes. Then, when a writer makes high-level decisions like changing a passage from past to present tense or fleshing out citation sketches into a true references section, she is faced with executing daunting numbers of nontrivial tasks across the entire document. Finally, when the document is a half-page over length, interactive software provides little support to help us trim those last few paragraphs. Good user interfaces aid these tasks; good artificial intelligence helps as well, but it is clear that we have far to go.


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