TECH MODULE 4.7: Crowdsourcing


Crowdsourcing is the process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community. Crowdsourcing can involve division of labor for tedious tasks split to use crowd-based outsourcing, but it can also apply to specific requests, such as crowdfunding. (Source: Wikipedia). One of the paradigms of crowdsourcing is the voluntary sharing aspect, seldom remunerated financially.

Crowdsourcing is a way to find solutions to problems that, for example, inhouse staff cannot find. Either because they are too much involved, or they lack expertise, or because they simply lost their ability to "think out of the box". Have a look at the "6 reasons to use crowdsourcing" to get a feeling to what can be done. More tips for using cowdsourcing can be found here. One fine example of early crowdsourcing was the quest for determining longitudinal position at sea, a major problem for efficient and safe seafaring. Therefore, a prize was set out and won (after battling) by a clock maker (and not a scholar or seafarer). This was 1715 (Source: Why use crowdsourcing). It also shows how to induce people to contribute to crowdsourcing: in that case, it was a reward. But most often, social networking, expert recognition or simply the wish to share knowledge is sufficient. Another example of combined crowsourcing with crowdfunding for culture is carried out in Sweden: CrowdCulture. By the way, one example par excellence for crowdsourcing (and crowdfunding) is Wikipedia!

At the EVA 2014 FLorence event, Nicole Graf from the ETH Library Zurich,  gave a presentation on: Crowdsourcing – new possibilities and limitations for image archives. ETH "inherited"  ~200.00 photographs from 1910 to 2001 of Swissair. The photographic collection came with very limited and incomplete documentation. From 2009-2013, in a 4 year project, ETH uaws crowdsourcing to fill the imformation gaps. It tapped on the collective memory of former Swissair staff, from technicians to pilots. The conclusions drawn are as follows:
1.    To use crowdsourcing, you need to inventorize, digitise and put the images on-line ( 40000 pictures were digitised)
2.    Identified former Swissair employees through PR in newspapers and at their meetings:  130 former employess agreed to help, ~40 actually added descriptions, and some 6 were permanently working voluntarily, adding info in ‘notes ‘field
3.    Yielded incredible amount of transfer of knowledge
4.    Needs: 1st year: supervision, knowledge transfer 0.2 full time equivalent (FTE) staff for ETH; image management (editing, uploading, answering qustions): 0,1 FTE; titel editing 0.2 FTE; could finance 60% for annotation work from external funds (Source: EVA ’14 Florence proceeding, pp. 129 ff.).

Another example is the "Art Detective" in the UK that exists since March 2014: Through crowdsourcing of experts, curators but also the informed public, paintings in UK's public domain could be identified or contextualised. Have a look at some of the success stories so far. It is related to the below Your Paintings initiative: Classification of public art collections by means of social tagging: the project Your Paintings, organised by the Public Catalogue Foundation in collaboration with the BBC, has helped to improve the metadata of more than 200,000 oil paintings from public collections in the United Kingdom that are accessible online and, thanks to crowdsourcing, made searchable in new ways. Crowdfunding for restoring heritage: a micro-sponsorship project organised by the Monestir de Pedralbes Museum (Barcelona) to fund the restoration of several 14th-century murals. The project’s objective was to collect €25,000, and by using the Verkami crowdfunding platform, the museum raised more than €33,000 in 40 days. (The last two examples are taken from EAI360).

All person ever engaged in crowdsourcing agree that it is best when you need solutions to a simple task. In the past, many small companies used it for design purpose, e.g. to create a new logo, or for testing the usability of a new software or app. In the cultural heritage sector, corwdsourcing is often used to tap on the (hidden) knowledge of the crwod at large, or a special group of people, like in the case of the Swissair former staff people. If you have a collection of cultural objects that lack description,then you may want to use crowdsourcing for social tagging: annotation or categorisation of items.

Take, for example, this young lady from the Rijksmuseum, painted by Johannes Cornelizs in 1641 in Holland. How can you find her if you do not know the museum location? The painter? The period? The geographical location?
Social or collective tagging is one way to add keywords to the picture, such as: girl, blue dress, laces, pearls, pearl necklace, plume, feather fan, brocade, blonde hair, fair hair etc. If you go for itnernational corwdsourcing, you may want to use different languages, so that the girl can be found if somebody looks for "dentelles" (French for lace) or "Federfächer" (German for feather fan). Thus, a multilingual layer can be added to the annotations. The Rijksmuseum does not need it any more as you can find a lot of key words. But it engaged users in its Rijksstudio to become creative which led to special interest compilations that add value to the collection. Some examples are: Habsburg representativesGirl Crafts, or Girl(s) with pearl earrings.

Crowdfunding: Museums always need money, nothing new in that. Crowdfunding could be a new way of topping up the always scarce financial resources, or for paying extras. The above example for restoring heritage is a success story - but not all attempts meet with success. In the USA where crowdfunding is already more mainstream, not all campaigns are successful, read NY Times article or look at the LinkedIn group on Museum Planning. But there are success stories in French Museums of reputatiion like the Louvre. Special websites (most of them American) offer corwdfunding platforms but conditions differ. Forbes gives you some ideas of crowdfundign sites in 2014.
Whenever you consider crwodsourcing, you need to keep two issues in mind: a) you need to manage the crowdsources and b) you need to edit the contributions received. The management part refers to a timeline, and may include certain distribution of works (as in the Swissair case where photos were distributed in weekly batches). For the editorial part, you may accept all (e.g. for tagging, but do never forget to include a spam filter!) or to edit format, length, style, language etc. to fit into your requirements. Naturally, the more you need to intervene, the more time is needed from your side. But as can be seen by the example of Swissair, there is no doubt much less time needed by staff than when all work is done by professionals. 

Europeana Sound tried to crowdsource sound - with diverse results. European 1914-1918 crowdsourced (since 2011) what it termed: WWI in everday's documents.