Crowd-powered search is a new form of search and problem solving scheme that involves collaboration among a potentially large number of voluntary Web users. Human flesh search (HFS), a particular form of crowd-powered search originated in China, has seen tremendous growth since its inception in 2001. HFS presents a valuable test-bed for scientists to validate existing and new theories in social computing, sociology, behavioral sciences, and so forth.
In this research, we construct an aggregated HFS group, consisting of the participants and their relationships in a comprehensive set of identified HFS episodes. We study the topological properties and the evolution of the aggregated network and different sub-groups in the network. We also identify the key HFS participants according to a variety of measures.
We found that, as compared with other online social networks, HFS participant network shares the power-law degree distribution and small-world property, but with a looser and more distributed organizational structure, leading to the diversity, decentralization, and independence of HFS participants. In addition, the HFS group has been becoming increasingly decentralized. The comparisons of different HFS sub-groups reveal that HFS participants collaborated more often when they conducted the searches in local platforms or the searches requiring a certain level of professional knowledge background. On the contrary, HFS participants did not collaborate much when they performed the search task in national platforms or the searches with general topics that did not require specific information and learning. We also observed that the key HFS information contributors, carriers, and transmitters came from different groups of HFS participants.