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Nate's blog

Foldit Users Unlock New AIDS Protein

"In just three weeks, gamers deciphered the structure of a key protein in the development of AIDS that has stumped scientists for years. According to a study published Sunday in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, the findings could present a significant breakthrough for AIDS and HIV research."

Check it out: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2393200,00.asp

Here's a link to the paper: http://www.nature.com/nsmb/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nsmb.2119.html

I think this discovery provides evidence for some of the axioms of crowdsourcing:

  • Many unskilled crowd members can outperform a small group of experts. The players of Foldit are clearly not protein folding experts (though they're surely getting some good training and are getting better at it!), yet they still were able to solve a problem that scientists in the field have so far been unable to solve.
  • The scalability that crowdsourcing provides means that problems can be solved QUICKLY! It only took the crowd three weeks to solve the problem, when the experts had been after it for years!
  • Crowdsourcing is CHEAP! The users play these games for fun, the man-hours being tapped to solve these kinds of problems comes for free, in ordinary people's down-time.

Crowdsourcing works! And it's only going to become more pervasive in our society as we become more networked, as more and more people telecommute, and as we build up crowdsourcing platforms to solve ever more types of problems!