Crowdsourcing is a way of obtaining information by enlisting the help of others, specifically Internet users.
Many digital humanities groups or organizations use crowdsourcing to aid in their projects. Oftentimes, these groups find themselves with limited resources – rather that be money or physical hands to work on the project. In these cases, they reach out to the public for help.
The most well-known example of crowdsourcing is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a free, online encyclopedia on which users can contribute to the entries on their own accord. Wikipedia has become a top search site, a place that people around the world can use and also contribute to. It has a reputation in the academic world, as students have turned towards Wikipedia as a source for research but since it’s a user-contributed platform, teachers do not consider Wikipedia to be a satisfactory research source. Regardless, Wikipedia is an important crowdsourcing project, which has proven that crowdsourcing can work.
Wikipedia isn’t the only crowdsourcing project out there – in fact, there are many digital humanities projects running that utilize crowdsourcing. These projects utilize the public in a variety of ways. Transcribe Bentham is a crowdsourcing platform for transcribing the papers of Jeremy Bentham. The public can log on to the site, view digitized documents from the Bentham papers and then transcribe the papers for the project. Transcription is one tool which crowdsourcing is useful for.
An interesting and unique type of crowdsourcing project is the New York Public Library’s Building Inspector. The public can inspect the maps and let the NYPL know whether their map inspection software has worked. This project is very cool – it works like a puzzle and gets the users captivated in the work. Below is a screenshot from the project: users view the computer-projected outline and then tell the software whether it has correctly outlined the building or not. Contributors can also add descriptions to maps that will identify different types of buildings.
In order to attract contributors, projects need to be engaging – their interface and design need to be user-friendly and the subject matter needs to appeal. An interesting example of a recent crowdsourcing project is from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The museum has asked people around the United States to search for information on how America reacted to news of the Holocaust by searching the headlines of newspapers from their town. Schools around the United States are picking up this project and encouraging their students to aid in the newspaper search. This is a unique project, but other digital humanities projects could learn from this project and other well-attended projects.
Crowdsourcing projects can run into trouble if they are not user-friendly or their subject matter does not appeal to the public. Digital humanists need to be wary of this and understand the limits of their projects. Crowdsourcing projects are reliant on the public and therefore need to understand the public.