We’re five weeks into Digital Cultural Heritage now and I’m starting to notice that certain words are becoming regular parts of the DCH vocab. Notable amongst these are metadata and crowdsourcing. I’ve already talked about metadata in a previous post. So now it is the turn of crowdsourcing to be understood.
I personally like the idea of crowdsourcing. It bridges that gap between the ivory towers of academia and the person on the street (or in front of the screen). Sometimes, as with so many good things, it can be misused. You end up with the equivalent of sweatshops, where volunteers are used to do the simple but time-consuming jobs like tagging. Other times, it works fantastically as a collaboration where everyone learns from everyone else. A great example is Measuring the Anzacs, which encourages citizen historians to tag and transcribe records of Anzac soldiers. While academics benefit from the additional help in tagging and transcription, the so-called ‘crowd’ have the opportunity to see behind the statistics to who the soldiers really were.
The thing about crowd sourcing is that it needs people to engage. That is when it works at its best.
Let’s be honest. No one is going to spend their time tagging or transcribing medieval manuscripts unless they are interested in it. The nature of crowd sourcing is that it is never a random crowd who engage with the project but individuals who are interested in the topic. For example, a marine biologist will most likely not engage with a Shakespearean project but an member of an amateur dramatics group might do. Thus, the need for engagement in crowd sourcing means that most projects ends up being group sourced by default.
These groups may not be structured or chosen on purpose but they are united by common purpose. So you end up with a group sourced project who are all engaged with your project.
And if you’re honest with yourself, you would rather have a small group of actively engaged people than a large group of vaguely interested people who don’t really care.