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?

Introduction: Abigail Seaver

Hello everyone! My name is Abigail Seaver, and I am a first-year Public History master’s student. I am originally from Wallingford, Connecticut but I officially adopted DC as my home by becoming a resident here. I went to American for undergrad as well, majoring in Strategic Communication and Public Relations in the School of Communication, with a minor in History.

Fun fact about me: I used to be a stylist in Georgetown at a store called Madewell before starting graduate school, and I absolutely loved it!

In the past I have worked in the House of Representatives as a communication intern, as well as with the Boston Bruins NHL team in their public relations office. Last year I worked on an oral history project that focused on African American police officers in Montgomery County, and catalogued their experiences on the job with the National Law Enforcement Museum.

I’ve also done work with Wikipedia, and it inspired me to get my master’s in Public History. I’m fascinated with how the public grapples with historic events, and I believe that history is too often placed on an academic pedestal. The public will be deeply involved in different historical topics for a variety of reasons, and I believe that trained historians have a duty to help cultivate engaged historic thought in the communities they work with. I think the digital sphere of history holds the most potential for sharing authority, and I am excited to broaden my digital toolbox.