Rajan Vaish

Rajan Vaish

Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Management Science & Engineering
Stanford University
-Research: HCI, Crowdsourcing, Collective Intelligence, Education.
-Ph.D. Thesis - Mobilizing the Citizen Crowd (UC eScholarship)
-Publications on Google Scholar
-Curriculum Vitae
-Code on Github (and from friends)

@rajan_vaish on Twitter

Travel & News

07-12 May'16 - Attending and chairing session on Microtasks and Crowdsourcing at ACM CHI, San Jose, CA.

19 Apr'16 - Got accepted as a young researcher (200 worldwide) at Heidelberg Laureate Forum 2016.

17 Apr'16 - Judging startups at Start Up Weekend East Bay.

17 Mar'16 - Judging science projects at Synopsys Science & Technology Championship Fair.

01 Mar'16 - Talk at LeadGenius, Inc.

09 Feb'16 - Talk at Berkeley Institute of Design Seminar, UC Berkeley.

01 Feb'16 - Joined Stanford A.I.M.S. - The postdoc link to entrepreneurship and industry.

15 Jan'16 - Position paper on low-attention microtasks got accepted at CHI 2016 Productivity Decomposed workshop.

04 Jan'16 - Starting as a postdoc at Stanford's MS&E department.

I apply crowdsourcing to scale traditional practices; like research, teaching, writing, data collection, time-critical campaigns - by mobilizing the citizen crowd.

I am a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University, where I work with Sharad Goel and Amin Saberi in the MS&E department and collaborate with Michael Bernstein in the CS department. My research interests include human-computer interaction, crowdsourcing, education and ICTD. The focus of my work has been on the aspects of mobilizing the citizen crowd and how we can leverage crowd potential to accomplish worthwhile global goals.

In past, I spent most of my grad school (three years) working with Michael Bernstein in the Stanford HCI Group, and was advised by James Davis at U.C. Santa Cruz, where I earned my M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in CS. During grad school, I also worked with various groups - Reid Porter at LANL, Andrés Monroy-Hernández and Jaime Teevan at MSR Redmond, Victoria Bellotti at PARC, Monica Lam at MobiSocial, Inc., Michael Muller and Werner Geyer at IBM T.J. Watson Research, and Bill Thies and Ed Cutrell at MSR India. I've also had work experience at Google SoC, OpenStreetMap Foundation, OLPC, and Accenture Tech Labs. Being an aspirant technology entrepreneur, I look forward to further my research and pursue a venture in future. Also, I love connecting with people, please feel free to contact me anytime.

Research projects

Stanford Crowd Course Initiative: Creating Courses at Scale

Collaborators: Sharad Goel, Amin Saberi at Stanford University.

The Stanford Crowd Course Initiative is an experimental program to facilitate people to share their knowledge with others - and exploring the possibility of collaborative teaching or course creation. The research question we ask here is: Can we get crowd to collaborate and produce high quality courses in a vartiety of topics and levels?

Update - new project, work-in-progress

The Aspiring Researchers Challenge: Crowdsourcing Research at Scale (MOOR)

Collaborators: Michael Bernstein, Sharad Goel, Geza Kovacs, Ranjay Krishna, Camelia Simoiu, Imanol Arrieta Ibarra at Stanford University. Michael Wilber, Andreas Veit and Serge Belongie at Cornell Tech. James Davis at U.C. Santa Cruz. And thousands of students worldwide.

The Aspiring Researchers Challenge is an experiment in massive open online research (MOOR), that explores the possibility of research at scale by connecting an expert with crowd (aspiring researchers). In span of six months, we had more than 1,000 sign ups from people around the world with almost no research experience - more than 80% had never published a paper before, about 25% were female and more than 70% were undergraduates. We developed a weekly structure that helped in coordinating crowd, distribute fair credits, educate and train them about research topics and process. The structure utilized peer review to scale the process, that would include series of research phases like, brainstorming, prototyping, development and user-evaluation. Through our approach, participants worked on three projects in computer vision, data science and human-computer interaction (HCI) - mentored by professors at Stanford University and UC Santa Cruz. And were able to successfully publish three work-in-progress papers at top-tier conferences in computer science - ACM UIST and AAAI HCOMP. Two students got accepted at Cornell for masters, while two crowd participants earned a full time RA position at Stanford University. The HCI project got into the finals of Knights News Challenge'15 (top 20 of 1,000+), and is ongoing with 550 new crowd researchers for the Winter session of 2016. We believe that the project is a first step towards realizing research on a wider scale.

Meta publications - about the process

- Vaish, R, Davis, J, Bernstein, M. “Crowdsourcing the Research Process”, Collective Intelligence 2015, Santa Clara, CA.
- Vaish, R. “Crowdsourcing the Research Process”, Doctoral Consortium at AAAI HCOMP 2014, Pittsburgh, PA.

Crowd publications - about the projects crowd researchers worked on

- HCI project: Stanford Crowd Research Collective, Vaish, R, Bernstein, M. “Daemo: a Self-Governed Crowdsourcing Marketplace”, ACM UIST 15, Charlotte, NC. (61 crowd authors)
- Data Science project: Mysore, A. S., .. Vaish, R,.. et al. “Investigating the ‘Wisdom of Crowds’ at Scale”, ACM UIST 2015, Charlotte, NC. (58 crowd authors)
- Computer Vision project: Veit, A., Wilber, M., Vaish, R., Belongie, B., Davis, J., et al. “On Optimizing Human-Machine Task Assignments”. AAAI HCOMP 2015, San Diego, CA. (49 crowd authors)
- Schuster, C, Zhang, B, Vaish, R, Thomas, J, Gomes, P, Davis, J. “RTI Compression for Mobile Devices”, IEEE ICIMu 2014, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Pilot study)

Talk, Posters, Press and Achievements

- [Poster] Crowd Research: HCI+Design Open House for CHI 2016, Stanford University, 5/8/16
- [Poster] Daemo: HCI+Design Open House for CHI 2016, Stanford University, 5/8/16
- [Talk] LeadGenius, Berkeley, CA, 3/1/16
- [Talk] Berkeley Institute of Design Seminar, UC Berkeley, 2/9/16
- [Achievement] HCI project got into the finals of Knights News Challenge'15 (top 20 of 1,000+)
- [Talks] Multiple mentions in talks by Michael Bernstein at Stanford, CMU, UIUC and elsewhere.
- [Talk and Poster] SRC/ISSDM Symposium with Los Alamos National Lab at UCSC, 10/15
- [Press] The Tragedy of the Digital Commons, The Atlantic, 6/8/15
- [Talk] Stanford University HCI lunch, 5/27/15
- [Press] The Aspiring Researcher Challenge: An Experiment In Massive Open Online Research. UCSC SOE, 5/20/15
- [Talk] Stanford Women in Computer Science’s ‘eCSpress yourself’, 5/15

The Whodunit Challenge: Mobilizing the Crowd in India

Collaborators: Bill Thies and Ed Cutrell at Microsoft Research India. Aditya Vashistha at University of Washington.

While there has been a surge of interest in mobilizing the crowd to solve large-scale time-critical challenges, to date such work has focused on high income countries and Internet-based solutions. In developing countries, approaches for crowd mobilization are often broader and more diverse, utilizing not only the Internet but also face-to-face and mobile communications. The Whodunit Challenge is first of its kind social mobilization contest to be launched in India. The contest enabled participation via basic mobile phones and required rapid formation of large teams in order to solve a fictional mystery case. The challenge encompassed 7,700 participants in a single day and was won by a university team in about 5 hours. To understand teams strategies and experiences, we conducted 84 phone interviews. While the Internet was an important tool for most teams, in contrast to prior challenges we also found heavy reliance on personal networks and offline communication channels.


- Vashistha, A, Vaish, R, Cutrell, E, Thies, W; “The Whodunit Challenge: Mobilizing the Crowd in India”; INTERACT 2015, Bamberg, Germany. (Equal contributions by Vashistha and Vaish).

Press - sadly, few links are not live anymore

- Microsoft to test social tech in India, Times of India, 2/13
- Microsoft’s social ‘Whodunit’ competition to begin in India, Yahoo! News, 2/13
- From Computing Research to Surprising Inventions (Peter Lee, head of MSR, launching the Whodunit? Challenge at TechFest India), Microsoft Research, 2/13
- Microsoft India Announces A Nationwide Social Gaming Competition, Silicon India, 1/13
- Social whodunnit competition launches in India, NewScientist, 1/13
- More press by Business Standard, CNN IBN, ACM.org, IIIT-Delhi and more...

Twitch Crowdsourcing: Crowd Contributions in Short Bursts of Time

Collaborators: Michael Bernstein, Keith Wyngarden, Jingshu Chen, Brandon Cheung at Stanford University.

To lower the threshold to participation in crowdsourcing, we present twitch crowdsourcing: crowdsourcing via quick contributions that can be completed in one or two seconds. We introduce Twitch, a mobile phone application that asks users to make a micro-contribution each time they unlock their phone. Twitch takes advantage of the common habit of turning to the mobile phone in spare moments. Twitch crowdsourcing activities span goals such as authoring a census of local human activity, rating stock photos, and extracting structured data from Wikipedia pages. At the time of CHI’14 paper submission, 82 users made 11,240 crowdsourcing contributions as they used their phone in the course of everyday life. After six months of deployment, over 100,000 contributions were registered. The median Twitch activity took just 1.6 seconds, incurring no statistically distinguishable costs to unlock speed or cognitive load compared to a standard slide-to-unlock interface.


- Vaish, R, Wyngarden, K, Cheung, B, Bernstein, M. “Twitch Crowdsourcing: Crowd Contributions in Short Bursts of Time”, CHI’14, Toronto, Canada.

Talks, Posters, Press and Achievements

- [Talk] Stanford University HCI lunch, 6/19/13
- [Talk] MIT CSAIL, 7/16/13
- [Talk and poster] Stanford MobiSocial Retreat, 10/5/13 http://mobisocial.stanford.edu/retreat13/
- [Poster] UC Santa Cruz Research Review Day, 10/17/13
- [Press] What’s new in digital and social media research: Crowdsourcing, analytics, Twitter patterns, product ratings, Harvard’s Journalist’s Resource, 5/14
- [Press] The Next Frontier in Crowdsourcing: Your Smartphone, MIT Technology Review, 3/14
- [Press] Crowdswiping, Stanford The Dish Daily, 2/14
- [Press] Crowdsourcing with a swipe of your finger, Santa Cruz Sentinal/San Jose Mercury, 2/14
- [Press] Crowdsourcing Twitch app could turn swipes into cash, NewScientist, 1/14
- [Achievement] Michael Bernstein was awarded the Google Faculty Grant for Twitch crowdsourcing proposal.


Exploring employment opportunities through microtasks via cybercafés

Collaborators: James Davis at U.C. Santa Cruz. Mrunal Gawade at Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica, Amsterdam.

Microwork in cybercafés is a promising tool for poverty alleviation. For those who cannot afford a computer, cybercafés can serve as a simple payment channel and as a platform to work. However, there are questions about whether workers are interested in working in cybercafés, whether cybercafé owners are willing to host such a set up, and whether workers are skilled enough to earn an acceptable pay rate? We designed experiments in internet/cyber cafes in India and Kenya to investigate these issues. We also investigated whether computers make workers more productive than mobile platforms? In surveys, we found that 99% of the users wanted to continue with the experiment in cybercafé, while 8 of 9 cybercafé owners showed interest to host this experiment. User typing speed was adequate to earn a pay rate comparable to their existing wages, and the fastest workers were approximately twice as productive using a computer platform.


- Gawade, M, Vaish, R, Waihumbu, M. N, Davis, J; “Exploring Employment Opportunities through Microtasks via Cybercafés”; IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference 2012, Seattle, WA.
- Gawade, M, Vaish, R, Waihumbu, M. N, Davis, J; “Exploring microwork opportunities through cybercafes”; ACM DEV 2012, Atlanta, GA. Work-in-progress.

Poster and Achievements

- [Achievement] Semi-finalist at the UC Berkeley Global Social Venture Competition 2012.
- [Poster] UC Berkeley CITRIS Retreat 2013, Berkeley, CA.


Internet vs. Enterprise Crowdfunding: Contrasting Motivations and Dynamics

Collaborators: Michael Muller, Werner Geyer and Todd Soule at IBM T.J. Watson Research, Cambridge, MA.

In this project we contrast crowdfunding as it occurs on the Internet, with crowdfunding in an Enterprise setting, based on a grounded theory analysis of a crowdfunding trial at IBM Research Almaden. We explore themes of diverse projects, motivations and incentives, strategies and approaches, and collaborations and relationships. Enterprise crowdfunding has its own financial model, social scope, and dynamics, resulting from a heightened sense of collaboration and community. This project helps us learn about the implications for organizations and for future crowdfunding activities.


- Vaish, R, Muller, M, Geyer, W, Soule, T. “Crowdfunding in the Enterprise and on the Internet: Workplace Users Emphasize Collaboration and Sociality”, Research Report RC25535, IBM Research 2015.

Talk, Poster and Press

- [Talk and Poster] InternFest’13, IBM Research, Cambridge, MA.
- [Press] IBM discovers its inner Kickstarter via enterprise crowdfunding, Network World, 8/13.
- [Press] Can Internal Crowdfunding Help Companies Surface Their Best Ideas?, Harvard Business Review, 9/13.

Peerworthy: Motivating Participation in Prosocial Peer-to-Peer Services

Collaborators: Victoria Bellotti at Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Vera Liao at Univ. at Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Internet is embracing peer-to-peer services, and the "sharing economy" they create. This project aims at exploring how to motivate people to join prosocial p2p services that do not involve monetary rewards. We carried out qualitative studies with users of existing online P2P services and offline peer-production groups to uncover A wide range of motivations. We conducted a field experiment with a P2P curating platform we created to compare user recruiting strategies that leverage these motivatiors. A full paper is under submission at International Journal of Human-Computer Studies.

Talk and Poster

- [Talk] Palo Alto Research Center, 10/14
- [Poster] Palo Alto Research Center, 7/14

Crowd tone emails

Crowd-Powered Tone Improvement System for Emails

Collaborators: Andrés Monroy-Hernández and Jaime Teevan at Microsoft Research Redmond.

Communicating a message with right tone is extremely important, misinterpretation of which can cause confusion or unexpected reaction and response. However, people often fail to express the right tone in their messages due to a lack of skills or the wrong assumptions. Can we help them? There are several automated solutions to detect the tone and identify shortcomings, like IBM's Tone Analyzer and ToneCheck. However, their accuracy and reliability if often doubtful. Also, these applications can give recommendations, but cannot fix the tone of the message or text. As part of our project, our system relies on crowd intelligence to improve the tone of emails. The backend of our system is powered by MTurk, where crowd follows a systematically designed and scaffolded workflow. The system inputs email content and context, and outputs improved email. Based on a study on 29 emails, we found that more than 90\% of the emails went through some or significant improvements.

Talk and Publication

- [Talk] Microsoft Research Redmond, 9/15
- Publication under preparation for upcoming ACM UIST/CSCW 2016.

Crowd tone emails
Phone as camera
Bounding box
Wait extension
Wait extension

Other projects from my grad school at U.C. Santa Cruz

3D+2D TV: 3D Displays with No Ghosting for Viewers Without Glasses
3D displays are increasingly popular in consumer and commercial applications. Many such displays show 3D images to viewers wearing special glasses, while showing an incomprehensible double image to viewers without glasses. We demonstrate a simple method that provides those with glasses 3D experience, while viewers without glasses see a 2D image without artifacts.
3D+2D TV project home site, SIGGRAPH site

Digitization of Health Records in Rural Villages- with PAMF
In this project, we present a study that reviews current available methods for obtaining electronic health records (EHRs) to facilitate the provision of health services to patients from rural villages in developing countries. The study compares processes of digitizing health records by means of manual transcription, both by hiring a professional transcriptionist and by using online crowdsourcing platforms. Finally, a cost-benefit analysis is conducted to compare the studied transcription methods to an alternate technology-based solution that was developed to support in-the-field direct data entry.

Using crowdsourcing to generate ground truth data for computer vision training
This project was conducted in collaboration with LANL. Computer vision is great, but at times it fails too. To train the algorithms, usually researchers spend several hours annotating images to create ground truths. Why not harness the crowd here? That’s what we’re trying to do, several experiments have been crowdsourced on Mechanical Turk and MobileWorks. The experiment was conducted on two types of data sets, namely: Pedestrians and Bumble-bees.

Low Effort Crowdsourcing: Leveraging Peripheral Attention for Crowd Work - at CrowdCamp at HCOMP'13, with Jeff Bigham and Haoqi Zhang.
Crowdsourcing systems leverage short bursts of focused attention from many contributors to achieve a goal. By requiring people’s full attention, existing crowdsourcing systems fail to leverage people’s cognitive surplus in the many settings for which they may be distracted, performing or waiting to perform another task, or barely paying attention. In this project, we study opportunities for loweffort crowdsourcing that enable people to contribute to problem solving in such settings. We discuss the design space for low-effort crowdsourcing, and through a series of prototypes, demonstrate interaction techniques, mechanisms, and emerging principles for enabling low-effort crowdsourcing

Before grad school: Older projects and stuff - Class projects, OLPC project, OpenStreetMap project, Yahoo! Open Hack, NASA WorldWind add-on, AOL/Truveo Google Gadges, Microsoft Imagine Cup etc.

Publications and Patents

- Organisciak, P, Vaish, R. "Accomplishing low-attention microtasks", Productivity Decomposed: Getting Big Things Done with Little Microtasks, ACM CHI Workshop 2016, San Jose, CA.
- Scher, S, Liu, J, Vaish, R, Gunawardane, P, Davis, J. “3D+2DTV: 3D Displays with No Ghosting for Viewers without Glasses”, ACM Transaction on Graphics (TOG) 2012.
- Vaish, R, Ishikawa, S, Liu, J, Berkey, S, Strong, P, Davis, J. “Digitization of Health Records in Rural Villages”, IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference 2013, San Jose, CA.
- Vaish, R, Ishikawa, S, Lundquist, S, Porter, R, Davis, J. “Human Computation for Object Detection”, Tech Report UCSC-SOE-15-03, School of Engineering, University of California Santa Cruz.
- Vaish, R, Organisciak, P, Hara, K, Bigham, J, Zhang, H. “Low-effort Crowdsourcing: leveraging peripheral attention for crowd work”, AAAI HCOMP 2014, Pittsburgh, PA [Work-in-progress and Demo].
- James Davis, Steven Scher, Jing Liu, Rajan Vaish, Prabath Gunawardane, "Simultaneous 2D and 3D Images on a Display”, US Patent 2013032821; 2013.


- 3D+2D TV: A 3D display that’s watchable without glasses, without ghosting, Extreme Tech, 6/13.
- UCSC Researchers Develop Display for Both 3D, 2D Viewing, India West, 10/13
- 3D TV faces uncertain future, MSN, 8/13.
- Researchers Develop Ghost-Free 3D For Viewers Not Wearing Glasses, Gizmodo, 7/13.
- UCSC Researchers Develop 3D Display With No Ghosting for Viewers Without Glasses, ACM Comm., 7/13.

Last updated on February 24, 2016. Web design based on ideas from Chinmay Kulkarni and Juho Kim.