BITlab: Behavior Information Technology

404 Wilson Rd. Room 249
Communication Arts & Sciences
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824

Socio-Technical Design of Crowdfunding Websites

This project will explore some technical problems in the area of “crowdfunding:” inducing members of the public to contribute small amounts of money at a time to fund projects. Crowdfunding web sites are an instance of a commonly studied problem called a “matching marketplace:” a central place where two types of people come to be matched according to some criteria. Other examples of this are job websites, where employers and employees come to be matched (find jobs), and online dating sites. Crowdfunding exhibits a “complementarity:” a project cannot start until enough people donate money. One person’s donation is not enough to support a project, but if a person waits for others to donate first, valuable projects may be left unfunded. Many real-world matching marketplaces involve complementarities, including couples finding jobs together and a project manager trying to put together a team that works well together.

This project brings together ideas from both computer science and economics. Both disciplines study matching problems, but neither has found a completely satisfactory solution in the presence of complementarities. In economics, the most common solution is a “deferred acceptance” mechanism, which breaks down when dealing with complementarities. Computer scientists frequently use “recommender systems” that make recommendations to people to help improve matches. But it isn’t even clear what should be recommended when there are complementarities. This research will develop an understanding of the role of complementarities in both of these types of solutions, and apply insights across fields to design better methods of matching.

The project will test these ideas in the real world by developing a crowdfunding system. This system will provide a test bed for new algorithms and mechanisms. It will also support a vibrant community of students by helping them to fund small creative projects that develop important skills. Crowdfunding is increasingly being applied to fund high-quality professional journalism (on sites such as Spot.Us), and improved crowdfunding systems have the potential to be a new funding source for this struggling industry. This research project will also train both undergraduate and graduate students in the conduct of interdisciplinary research.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. CCF-1101266. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recomendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Funded by NSF Award CCF-1101266.

PI: Rick Wash


To reach everyone on the project, send email to our mailing list:


  • Chankyung Pak and Rick Wash. “The Rich Get Richer? Limited Learning in Charitable Giving on donorschoose.orgICWSM 2017. Montreal, Quebec, Canada. May 2017.

  • Josh Introne, Bryan Semaan, and Sean Goggins. “A Sociotechnical Mechanism for Online Support ProvisionProceedings of the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing (CHI). San Jose, CA. May 2016. ( Link )

  • Jacob Solomon, Wenjuan Ma, and Rick Wash. “Highly Successful Projects Inhibit Coordination on Crowdfunding SitesProceedings of the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing (CHI). San Jose, CA. May 2016. ( Abstract )

  • Jacob Solomon, Wenjuan Ma, and Rick Wash. “Don’t Wait! How Timing Affects Coordination of Crowdfunding DonationsComputer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW). Vancouver, BC. March 2015. ( Abstract, PDF )

  • Chankyung Pak and Rick Wash. “Importance of Recent Success and Initial Overconfidence: Factors of Crowdfunders’ Limited Learning.” Poster in ACM Conference on Economics and Computation (EC). June 2014. ( Abstract )

  • Elizabeth M. Gerber, Michael Muller, Rick Wash, Lilly C. Irani, Amanda Williams, and Elizabeth F. Churchill. “Crowdfunding: An Emerging Field of Research.” Panel Session in CHI ‘14 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems. April 2014. ( ACM DL )

  • Rick Wash and Jacob Solomon. “Coordinating Donors on Crowdfunding WebsitesComputer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW). Baltimore, Maryland. February 2014. [Honorable Mention] ( Abstract, PDF, ACM DL )

  • Rick Wash. “The Value of Completing Crowdfunding ProjectsProceedings of the International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (ICWSM). Boston, MA. July 2013. ( Abstract, PDF )


  • Both Josh and Rick have papers accepted at CHI!

  • BITLab REU Interns have posters at Mid-SURE 2015

  • Six BITLab REU Students have posters at Mid-SURE

  • PhD student Chankyung Pak had a poster accepted to the ACM Economics and Computation conference.

  • The college’s newsletter has two articles about the BITLab: one about our security research and one about the undergraduate summer research.

  • Rick Wash’s paper “The Value of Completing Crowdfunding Projects” was accepted at ICWSM ‘13.

  • BITLab Faculty and students have 2 papers at CSCW, 5 papers at CHI, and one paper at ICA!

  • Rick Wash received a grant of $400,000 from the National Science Foundation to study crowdfunding systems.