Human-Computer Interaction Institute
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University


Essays on Achieving Success in Peer Production:
Contributor Management, Best Practice Transfer and Inter-Community Relationships

Haiyi Zhu

August 2015

Ph.D. Thesis


Keywords: Human-Computer Interaction, Social Computing, Computer-Supported Collaborative Work, Peer Production, Organizational Behavior, Contributor Management, Best Practice Transfer, Inter-Community Relationships

Since the late twentieth century, open source software projects (e.g., the GNU/Linux operating system, the Apache web server, Perl and many others) have achieved phenomenal success. This success can be attributed to a new paradigm of productivity in which individuals voluntarily collaborate to produce knowledge, goods and services. Benkler claims this productivity paradigm is a "new, third mode of production" particularly suited for "the digitally networked environment" (2002). In addition to its application to open source software projects, the peer production model, in different forms, has been used in areas such as science/citizen science (Silvertown, 2009), library science (Weinberger, 2007), politics (Castells, 2007; Jenkins, 2006), education (Daniel, 2012), journalism (Gillmor, 2004), and culture (Jenkins, 2006; Lessig, 2004).

As peer production has flourished, merely describing successful cases has become less useful. Instead, scholars must identify the dynamics, structures, and conditions that contribute to or impede that success. In this dissertation, I focus on three management challenges at three distinct levels that impede the success of peer production. At the individual level, one significant question is how to best organize individual contributors with differing goals, experience, and commitment to achieve a collective outcome. At the practice level, peer production communities, like corporations, must often transfer best practices from one unit to another to improve performance. This transfer process poses the challenge of how to adapt and modify an original practice to make it effective in the new context. At the community level, peer production communities must learn to survive and succeed in a large ecosystem of related communities. This dissertation combines theoretical approaches in organization science with in-depth empirical analysis on a range of peer production communities to examine the mechanisms that help the communities overcome these three management challenges and succeed in peer production.

The contributions of my dissertation are twofold. For scholars and researchers, my dissertation advances the theoretical understanding of the underlying mechanisms of successful peer production systems. For practitioners, my dissertation offers practical advice to build more effective peer production projects and platforms.

164 pages

Thesis Committee:
Robert E. Kraut (Co-Chair)
Aniket Kittur (Co-Chair)
Yochai Benkler (Harvard University)
Yiqing Ren (University of Minnesota)
Jason Hong

Anind K. Dey, Head, Human-Computer Interaction Institute
Andrew W. Moore, Dean, School of Computer Science

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