When Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson coined the term “crowdsourcing” back in 2005 in an article for Wired magazine, the term referred primarily to practices operated by for-profit businesses, particularly within the tech world, whereby a large group of contributors undertook a number of small, often routine and mundane tasks. Nearly 10 years later, crowdsourcing has changed and evolved to a point where, like Digital Humanities, a standard, agreed-upon definition is difficult to find.

Stuart Dunn, a Digital Humanities lecturer at Kings College London, describes crowdsourcing as a “loaded term,” since the historical definition of the word connotes “the antithesis of what academia understands as public engagement and impact.” Yet, even with a variety of potential definitions and blurred boundaries for what might be considered a crowdsourced project, many Digital Humanities projects still rely on the term, if only because the larger population has developed a collective – if vague and overgeneralized – understanding of what “crowdsourcing” means.

As I mentioned earlier this week, my classmates and I recently presented on a number of crowdsourced projects. Listening to the other presentations and conducting my own research clearly revealed the depth and breadth of just what “the crowd” can accomplish. Below, I’ve shared a selection of some crowdsourced projects I found particularly interesting.

(There are, of course, many more examples than I’ve listed here. On my Links of Interest page, you can find a link to more DH crowdsourcing examples.)

  • What’s the Score at the Bodleian? – The Bodleian Library at Oxford University launched this project in collaboration with Zooniverse (a larger crowdsourcing project), to increase access to the library’s music collection and collection of printed musical scores. Volunteers transcribe the scores and add metadata tags to help categorize each score. The project initially attracted my attention as I’m a music fan and one-time musician myself, but further thought has me wondering: most online crowdsourcing projects are geared towards sighted volunteers – that is, volunteers need to be able to see something on a website. With What’s the Score?, there’s the potential for the Bodleian to add an audio component, allowing sight-impaired volunteers to offer tags or transcribe based on what they hear. Currently, the Bodleian does have some audio files uploaded, though these appear to be examples of the collection, rather than opportunities. I’d love to see the Bodleian – and other DH crowdsourcing projects – expand their accessibility so that more volunteers could contribute.
  • Reverse the Odds! – Another Zooniverse-affiliated program, Reverse the Odds! is a mobile game developed by Cancer Research UK. While the game is designed with bright colors and an easy-to-use interface, it also incorporates real cancer research data. By playing the game, participants help researchers recognize the patterns of various cancer cells, which, in turn, is used to find real solutions to cancer and cancer symptoms. There are other citizen science projects that have created games to further research; Reverse the Odds! is just one such example.
  • Tag! You’re It! and Freeze Tag! at the Brooklyn Museum – Though now retired, these two projects intertwined games with crowdsourcing in a new way. The Tag! game had volunteers providing collection tags to items in the Brooklyn Museums’ collections, with an interface that volunteers “playing” against each other for points. The Freeze Tag! component then gave volunteers the ability to revise and correct others’ tags, ensuring a built-in verification and moderation process. The project was a success for the museum and the use of game names that referenced clear childhood memories (at least for those of us who played the school yard game Tag) no doubt helped draw more volunteers to the project.
  • What Was There – Finally, a project not associated with an academic or nonprofit institution. What Was There was created by Enlighten Ventures, LLC, a digital marketing agency. The platform invites participants to upload old photos of their local community, then tag those photos with location and year. Once uploaded, the photos can then be overlaid with Google Maps Street View, providing a real-time visual example of how cityscapes and landscapes have changed over time. According to the website, the project hopes to “weave together a photographic history of the world (or at least any place covered by Google Maps).” That’s a fine goal, but there’s the potential for historians, architects, urban planners and conservationists to use the data gathered by the project for further research. Enlighten doesn’t (yet) mention what is done with the tags gathered, nor make it available to the public, but should they decide to open up the data, there are possibilities here.
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