Benjamin Mako Hill Wins Third NSF Grant

UW Communication Assistant Professor Benjamin Mako Hill recently announced that the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded him a third research grant.

Dr. Hill said the funds will support his research on anonymity in peer production systems and online public goods. It will be a continuation of the work he presented at last fall’s faculty research forum.

The grant supports a proposal that Dr. Hill submitted in collaboration with Rachel Greenstadt and Andrea Forte, both of the College of Computing and Informatics at Drexel University.

The grant is for a total of $1,113,143 over four years. Nearly a third of the funds will support the work of Department graduate students in Dr. Hill’s lab.

The grant was funded as part of the Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace program, which is run out of the Computer and Network Systems group at NSF. Dr. Hill said that he is very excited that Sara Kiesler will serve as the program officer, as she “has done seminal work on anonymity in computer-mediated communication.”

The proposal stems from the observation that many commons-based peer production projects block contributions from users of systems that provide anonymity (like Tor). The research done by Dr. Hill’s lab will include qualitative studies and ethnographic interviews with service providers and users who seek out anonymity online. It will then include work led by Dr. Hill to model the value lost by blocking anonymous contributions supported by quasi-experimental and experimental analyses and digital trace data. Finally, the research project will involve the design of new systems to support the needs of service providers, good faith anonymity-seeking users, and the public.

Dr. Hill adds that his lab will partner with a large number of non-profits and firms during the course of this research. The funded proposal was supported by Reddit, Wikipedia, Tor, Github, Zooinverse, and Mozilla.