Week 3: Crowdsourcing and the Internet (Abigail Seaver)

Hello class! Welcome back to week two, where we going to be discussing one of my personal favorite topics: crowdsourcing and community building on the internet.

Brabham, “The Myth of Amateur Crowds; A critical discourse analysis of crowdsourcing coverage”

Brabham poses an interesting question in this article – is there really such a thing as an “amateur” being involved in crowdsourcing?

Many of these participants are college education and are involved in the field in one way or another. Even hobbyists have an emotional attachment to the field they are engaged with, and even though they don’t have professional training they usually care enough to be well informed and dedicated.

Brabham points out that many of the crowdsourcing we see today involved people who have access to professional tools – take the two brothers who one the Doritos video contest. As video arts students they had access to professional grade equipment and the advice of many of the professional field.

The way that we talk about “amateur” crowdsources will influence public opinion on the validity of these projects, and we need to be careful with a terminology and language choice.

Causer & Wallace, “Building a Volunteer Community; Results and Findings from Transcribe Bentham,”

In this reading the authors are providing us a case study that showcases a positive crowdsourcing situation for a historic institution. Transcribe Bentham was a project founded in 1958 with the goal of transcribing philosopher and reformer Jeremy Bentham’s records. In 2012 they still had 40,000 folios remaining to be worked on, so they used online resources to market their campaign and create buzz using different targeted recruitment techniques.

The really important takeaway from this article is the defining of a crowd, and how that differs from a community and where both these terms fit into the digital sphere.

A crowd is often anonymous and sporadic, and it’s pretty simple to know a crowd when you see one.

A community is much more involved and relied on a peer support system.

For Transcribe Bentham the authors found that many of the most dedicated members of the community did this volunteer work because they felt a drive to help provide a service to a larger community. This leads to unconscious collaboration, where people add on to the previous work done by others.

Edson, Dark Matter: The dark matter of the Internet is open, social, peer-to-peer and read/write—and it’s the future of museums

This was, by far, my favorite reading of the week. The internet is something that many of us are still grappling with – what is it really to us? A medium? A platform? Edson argues that, like dark matter in space the potential the internet has is comprised of something similar. It’s so forceful that it impacts our everyday life, yet we often don’t acknowledge or see it.

There are creators out in the wild west of the internet who have created engaging platforms, often by accident, and they have married academics with entertainment in a way that seeps into every aspect of humanity. This includes social movements, politics, health topics, and complicated scientific and historical topics that often don’t get discussed casually.

Institutions can learn a lot from these innovators. If done successfully, “museums, libraries, and archives—heritage, culture, knowledge, and memory institutions—can play a huge role in the story of how Earth’s 7 billion citizens will lead their lives, make and participate in their culture, learn, share, invent, create, cry, laugh, and do in the future.”

Ford, Why Wasn’t I Consulted: The Web as A Customer Service Medium

This article gets to the bottom of a question some of the others have danced around: Is the internet a medium, like television, film, or radio? I can tell you that in the communication world this isn’t even a question. When reaching an audience, you need to understand the medium as much as you understand an audience. What works for radio won’t work for television, and it definitely won’t work on the internet.

Ford argues that the internet is a medium in its own right and needs to be treated as such. What makes it so unique is that it panders to the human desire to be consulted and engaged with others. This is why he claimed that it is a customer service medium, not a publishing medium. You need to be create an experience around what you are trying to publish or sell.

Frankle, More Crowdsourced Scholarship: Citizen History

This author brings up an interesting concept of Citizen History. What happens when institutions trust visitors to bring their own perspectives to research?

Frankle argues that this is beneficial as long as it’s in a controlled environment. The institution should set questions, determine barriers, provide training, and double check the actual results that volunteers provide. This is beneficial because it opens up museum data for the general public, and can lead to more people being engaged in critical historical thought.

Miner, if everything on the internet has to be free, why isn’t my healthcare, too?

This post right here made me remember what I hated about the early internet days. I am all for being engaging, unique, and different. But please TRY and put some effort into your presentation, it’s often just as important as the content itself. If you don’t care about the look of your post, why would I care about your content?

Anyways, Miner makes some interesting points in this post. She is worried about the quality of her profession being on the decline because people just aren’t willing to pay for access anymore to archives. She wonders, how can archival structures exist if no one will pay for them?

The comments were rich on this post, and I agreed with many of them that argues that the dichotomy she presented (you can have free stuff or you can have employment, but not both) was too simplified. Institutions need to be aware of what is worth paying for, and that sometimes you need to high resolution thing for an exhibit, but a photograph of an object works fine on social media.

Rosenzweig, Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past

This article provides a good background on the creation of Wikipedia. Many people don’t realize it stemmed from the project Nupedia, which failed because of the limitations it put on content uploaders. While this article is long, it really does provide good resources for people who are interested in delving into this crazy online encyclopedia.

Here are important takeaways:

Wikipedia has four major guidelines –

NPOV: everything written on the site should maintain a neutral point of view

V: everything written should be verifiable to another user

RS: only reliable sources can be used – no personal research can be cited

COI: you should avoid creating conflicts of interest

The author also compares 25 Wikipedia articles to their encyclopedia counterparts and found that they were surprisingly accurate. What’s beneficial about the site is the fact that if you encounter an error, you can go through the article’s history to find out when and why it was added to the article.


So, after recapping all of these articles I would like to ask you guys a few questions to start our discussion off (feel free to pick and choose, or to address a completely different point I brought up!):

Do you believe that we are putting too much faith into collaboration? Often during crowdsourced projects institutions will double check any work before allowing it to go public – does this just create double the amount of work?

When are times where you have used Wikipedia, and did you often find it reliable? Did these articles change your opinion on Wikipedia?

In the blogging sphere, does formatting matter? Does sloppiness take away from an author’s argument?

When can crowdsourcing or collaboration have a negative impact on an organization?

12 Replies to “Week 3: Crowdsourcing and the Internet (Abigail Seaver)”

  1. I found it interesting how much the Rosenzweig article on Wikipedia showed its age. I was in high school in 2006, when this was written, and I clearly recall the kind of panic from educators about students trusting Wikipedia as a source, even though I generally found it to be fairly reliable.

    The comparison to “real” encyclopedias like Encarta and American National Biography Online was enlightening in some ways, but also felt very dated and kind of missed the point. On the one hand, I can see how a professionally-written encyclopedia entry has style and content advantages over Wikipedia, even if both have accurate content. On the other hand, in my experience most people use Wikipedia not for deep research or scholarly content, but for their own entertainment and reference, or to quickly check a fact about something. Who’s going to pay for a professional encyclopedia for that?

  2. Wikipedia and this article were both created when I was in elementary school. That being said when I got into high school some years after Wikipedia’s creation, it was always sworn off as a reliable source to use after years of critiques. Often, Wikipedia was encouraged as a starting point to follow the trail of cited sources to come to our own or even differing conclusions. In my life, I utilize Wikipedia when I want to quickly check a fact, like the accuracy of Showtime’s The Tudors (a lot of inaccuracies, but who does not love historical trash?) or how tall a star is, for whatever weird reason. I never usually use it for more than this. I am not sure if Rosenzweig changed by opinion, however I was challenged to reconsider how I look at Wikipedia. Before, I thought the collaborative effort of Wikipedia was what made it inaccurate but I think since there are so many writers/opinions, the site is a good way to gauge objective (as much as one can be) knowledge on a subject. In this way, we are all made Public Historians in our own right.
    Is that a good thing? As Miner points out, the collaboration of “amateurs” threatens our potential careers. But I do not feel threatened because historians have a larger authority in the matter of memory. Yes, Wikipedia allows for a shared authority of the past, but why can’t historians join in that conversation? While Wikipedia won’t allow us to post original work, why not use that time instead to fact check other collaborative efforts? If we work together though, imagine the knowledge we could share.

  3. I find the whole distrust in crowdsourcing issue fascinating, in that it reflects many of the issues big H history has faced since its inception. Who can be trusted with “History”? Clearly, there are institutions that feel the need to “double-check” crowdsourced transcriptions which indeed raises the question why do it in the first place? And it also reflects caution in the handling of history, serving as an example for the accessibility question. The digital is tearing down the walls separating academic discipline and public interpretation. Looking at this responsibly would be much easier if history wasn’t so interpretive. It is very easy to disagree about history, and the more we deviate from theory the less we rely on evidence. And it’s that “evidence” thing that created the rift between academics and the public in the first-place.

  4. Even though institutions would devote a lot of time and energy to maintain collaborative projects between themselves and the general public, I believe the point of these projects would be to engage with a wider audience and get them excited about a certain piece of history, rather than worrying about the time spent on a proejct.
    I thought that Frankle’s article about citizen history was really interesting and demonstrates the success that other institutions can have if they put more effort into producing collaboration projects. Even though Frankle spends a lot of time facilatating and fact checking, by opening up the museum’s data to the public, the general public use their own critical thinking skills and engage them with a piece of history that they might not have thought about.
    I feel like many institutions are trying to find ways to make history and historical thinking more accessible to the general public, and having more collaborative projects like the Children of the Lodz Ghetto project, would be a great way for a wider audience to engange with history. Yes, it is more time consuming for an institution, but I think it’s worth the time.

  5. I also enjoyed Edson’s essay, as it was really well-written and lacking in unnecessary jargon. I think, however, that he sort of misses his own point. Dark matter, to go with his analogy, is still kind of a mystery (from what I understand of it, which is admittedly very little), as is what makes something go viral or become a meme online. Saying museums and other institutions should just be better at making things popular seems obvious, and Edson doesn’t provide instruction on how to do this successfully.

    1. I agree he doesn’t provide any instruction on how to do it successfully, and I think the reason for this is that we are still in an era of trial and error. What works for one institution doesn’t work for another, particularly when many of them can’t agree on what the internet should be used for. I’m assuming this is where the dark matter comes in – so little is known about it yet it is still an incredibly powerful force. In today’s world institutions are taking the impact of the internet more seriously, but you still have many who ignore the powerful tool that it can be in favor of more traditional routes. I saw Edson’s essay as not an instructional piece but instead a philosophical one, opening up the discussion on what we may consider to be the internet today will turn out to be something completely different even just a few short years from now.

  6. In addition to some of the other issues that have been mentioned regarding crowdsourcing, one that I have found is the reliance on the kindness and the technological abilities of others to provide the best information possible. As some of the readings discussed, it is often independent citizens who participate in these programs with little incentive other than the knowledge that you have helped others. To look at this from a particularly cynical viewpoint, what happens if people decide that they do not want to help each other? What about for people who say “what’s in it for me?” Again, I know this is kind of bleak, but it is a real problem to be considered- what happens when that human capital runs out? Also, there are many individuals out there in the world who have a vast knowledge of the subject matter on some of these subjects with little to no ability to use the technology provided (ridiculous, maybe, but there are some elderly folk without this capacity). Maybe I’m nitpicking with these possible issues, but it’s something to consider when thinking about crowdsourced materials.

    1. I think that Brabham’s article addresses a lot of the criticism you mentioned. It’s always a possibility that people who have negative intentions will get involved with crowdsourcing projects, but usually they are often invested academically, professionally, or emotionally in the field. Many crowdsource projects take mundane work, which is a lot of effort to expend for someone who just wants to come in and mess everything up. Even Wikipedia has survived this long without any major PR issues, and they’re pretty quick to lock down pages that under “edit wars” or blatant vandalism. I think you posed valid concerns, however, an it should be something institutions should be worried about even if they don’t deal with sensitive subject matter.

  7. Although Ford’s article was written in 2011, I think the 2018 world can benefit from some of his insights, and correctly assume that his analysis of the web as a “customer service medium” retains validity. As the internet becomes an increasingly, seemingly mandatory, part of our lives, sites mentioned by Ford are also increasing in their role as a customer service medium. Specifically the examples of Wikipedia and YouTube. The level of “service” within just these sites has increased exponentially in the time the article was written. YouTube has become a customer service based enterprise if we consider the massive influx in “tutorial-type” videos that many lean on or rely on for day-to-day tasks (i.e. makeup tutorials, “how-to” videos for chores around the house, technology set-up, just to name a few).
    Ford’s analysis of WWIC perfectly exemplifies this trajectory of an increasing customer service medium. Yelp and other review sites are now go-to’s for many before making a decision, therefore putting the power back in the hands of the consumer. Like other mediums, this gives the assumption that the opinion of the consumer matters in the first place, which is true for other mediums, and is what Ford argues is also true for the internet. As we increase our reliance on the internet, Ford’s dated article is still relevant today, which makes it a rare specimen in the technological world where today’s new technology can become outdated as early as the next day.

  8. Frankle’s article on Citizen History to me illustrates how technology can successfully facilitate citizen participation in history without losing our authority as historians. It highlights the way we can share authority with the public – something we have talked about at great length in our public history seminar – without losing our jobs as Alison Minor fears. Frankle’s project with the Children of the Lodz Ghetto allows individuals to do actual interpretation and research and experience the side of history that isn’t a recitation of facts (an unfortunate reputation history has outside of the field), engaging people more with critical thinking and interpretation rather than posting neutral voice comments on Wikipedia. This sort of project shows how digital history and public history often intersect, and indicates how collaboration between public and professionals is beneficial to everyone involved; citizens get interested in history and historical practices and professionals gain an understanding of how the public thinks about history and new ways of approaching an historical topic.

  9. Edson and Ford make similar points about the power of social media. On one hand, Edson points to the power of social media to create a community, such as the Vlogbrothers’ Nerdfighters. On the other, Ford explains that consumers of the internet expect it to be a two-way sharing experience between the content creators and the audience. Though as SAAdler mentioned, Edson doesn’t do a great job at explaining how to get better at social media, perhaps Ford’s principles can be applied to help mitigate that discrepancy between institutions and popular bloggers. Perhaps the answer is to be transparent and open in creating a sense of community the way the Greens responded to their communities in order to foster its growth. I would be very interested in trying my hand at social media blogging for a project to see if I can figure this out.

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