A Glass Case of Emotion: User Movitivation in Crowdsourcing

The web is inherently made up of networks and interactions among its users. But what is the nature of these interactions – participatory? collaborative? exploitative? These questions play out when cultural heritage institutions take to the web and attempt to engage the vast public audience that is now accessible to them. Crowdsourcing is a means to allow everyday citizens to participate and become more involved with historic materials than ever before. Similarly, these volunteer projects can overcome institutional monetary and time constraints to create products not possible otherwise. What most interested me in the readings is the motivations of those involved in these projects. Why do citizens choose to participate? Why are institutions putting these projects out there? How do they play on the motivations of their users? These questions link back to the overarching general ideas about the nature of interactions on the web.

Why Wasn’t I Consulted?

Paul Ford describes the fundamental nature of the web with the phrase “Why wasn’t I consulted” or WWIC for short. Ford claims that feedback and voice on content is what the web is run on. By giving people a voice, even through the basest form of expression in likes, favorites, +1’s, or “the digital equivalent of a grunt,” users are satisfied that they were consulted and that they can give their approval or disapproval.

User experience, in Ford’s mind, is centered on their emotional need to be consulted. Additionally, the expression of approval is what feeds other users to create content, receiving a positive emotional response from those who consume their work. Organizations create spaces that shrink the vast web down into communities where the WWIC problem can be solved. Essentially, these structures create a glass case of emotion.

Ron Burgundy in a Phone Booth

Libraries, archives, and museums have to deal with users’ emotions when creating their crowdsourcing ventures. How do we create places where the users will feel consulted and desire to participate? Like Ford, Causer & Wallace in describing the Transcribe Bentham project of University College London, and the Frankle article on the Children of Lodz Ghetto project at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, emphasize understanding users and volunteers as well as finding the appropriate medium is important in these undertakings.

Causer & Wallace identify a much more detailed set of motivations of their user groups than Ford’s WWIC idea. Many of their participants claimed they had interests in the project such as history, philosophy, Bentham, or crowdsourcing in general. Other than these categories, the next biggest reasoning for joining the project was a desire to be a part of something collaborative. The creators of Transcription Bentham failed to create an atmosphere where users felt comfortable collaborating which may have been why the project decreased in popularity over time. The Children of Lodz Ghetto project, on the other hand, is much more collaborative with administrators guiding researchers through each step of the process. Eventually they hope to have advanced users take over the role of teaching newcomers. The Holocaust Museum’s project is a much more sustainable model that could lead to lasting success.

Crowdsourcing (For Members Only)

While collaboration and having an interesting topic is a key factor in motivating participation, how do online history sites get the attention of the public to join in the first place? The push for the openness of both the internet and cultural institutions is something I greatly support, but I think motivating the populace to get involved in these projects needs a return to exclusivity. There is still a prevailing notion that archives and other cultural organizations are closed spaces that only certain people can access. In many European institutions this is still the case. Why don’t we use the popular notions of exclusivity to our own benefit?

Hear me out. What these articles lacked was the idea that many people desire what they cannot get or what only few can. I’m not advocating putting collections behind a paywall or keeping collections from being freely available online. Instead, I think participation in crowdsourcing projects should be competitive or exclusive in order to gain the initial excitement needed to gain a following and spur desire for inclusion.

Other social media platforms such as early Facebook and more recently Ello or new devices such as Google’s Google Glass, have made membership or ownership limited, creating enormous desire for each. In these examples, the majority of the populace is asking why wasn’t I consulted? and therefore want to be included. Thus, having the initial rounds of participation be limited to a first-come, first-serve, invite-only platform would spark desire for the prestige of being the few to have access to the project.

In Edson’s article, he wrote about the vast stretches of the internet that cultural institutions do not engage, what he called “dark matter.” While there are huge numbers of people out there who are “starving for authenticity, ideas, and meaning,” I think the first step should be creating a desire to participate and then growing the project. Without something to catch the public’s attention, create a community, and grow an emotional desire to participate, another crowdsourcing website would simply be white noise to the large number of internet users in the world.  The users, who are visiting the websites looking for a way into the projects but denied, could discover the free and open collections which are there right now. After this first limited period, once the attention is there, I think scaling up would be easier. Of course these ideas will only work if the institution has created a place that understands the emotional needs of its users and provides a collaborative and social environment where users are comfortable participating.

 

Victorian Researcher Finds Google Makes His Life A Lot Easier

If you thought “Googling the Victorians” was about something else, you’ll be disappointed. In this article, Patrick Leary discusses how Google has made his life as a researcher of the Victorian era so much easier.

That’s to be expected with anything in digital history — wouldn’t our lives as historians be so much harder without Google?

But what is so surprising and unique about Leary’s article is how he views Google’s usefulness as something of an accident.

Leary writes about his search for a phrase that appeared in the Sunday Review.. His search for this phrase appeared in a number of other sources as well.

Leary writes: “Such experiences reinforce the conviction that the very randomness with which much online material has been placed there, and the undiscriminating quality of the search procedure itself, gives it an advantage denied to more focused research.”

While Google has helped his work, Leary also writes that it is no silver bullet and that one should always verify the authenticity of a source that is returned in a Google search.

“A great many legitimate scholarly purposes can nevertheless be served by an array of online texts that are, to one degree or another, corrupt,” he writes.

Later in the paper, we hear with excitement the prospects of expanded digitization projects as well as improvements in optical character recognition, or OCR, the technology that enables the searching of 19th century Victorian documents. Leary is also excited about the expanded number of non-profit digitization initiatives, like the Internet Archive.

He then discusses how new generations will take this kind of research for granted.

“What we are seeing is arguably not merely an electronic supplement to traditional library and archival research, but a more fundamental shift in our relationship to the textual universe on which our research depends,” he writes.

In all, this paper is not at all surprising. It could be extrapolated and made applicable to other topics within history, or even other fields. But what makes it important is Leary’s anecdotes about how this has changed his life — and his field.

History…The Wikipedia Way???

Is Wikipedia a good reliable source of historical scholarship?

The answer to this question depends upon several factors including, but not limited to our own relationship to historical scholarship.  According to Roy Rosenzweig, “History is a deeply individualistic craft” and its scholarship is characterized by the possessive individualism of historians.  As historians we are taught to cite our sources, giving credit to other historians for the use of their ideas and words to avoid charges of plagiarism.  In contrast, Wikipedia encourages the creation of entries in cooperation with multiple authors, who may be anonymous.  Wikipedia allows users to freely copy and use the entries found on their site in a variety of ways.  Teachers can make copies to use in their classes, students can copy and use the articles in their papers, authors can use the information in books, and anyone with a website can copy information found on Wikipedia to their website.  The only restriction imposed by Wikipedia regarding the use of these entries is…”you may not impose any more restrictions on subsequent readers and users than have been imposed on you”.

What is Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is a free, open, collaborative source which first appeared on the World Wide Web in January 2001.  The idea behind Wikipedia was originally developed in 1999 by Richard Stallman who proposed a website called GNUpedia.   The following year Jimmy “Jimbo” Wales and Larry Sanger, the driving forces behind Wikipedia, developed and launched Wikipedia’s predecessor – Nupedia in March 2000.  This was followed quickly by Wikipedia in January 2001.   The WikiWikiWeb software which enabled the creation of Wikipedia was developed in the mid 1990’s by Ward Cunningham.  Since its premier Wikipedia has become the largest, most widely read and most important free historical source.  Wikipedia has its own set of rules which are intended to regulate participation, however the co-creator and the site’s editor-in-chief, Larry Sanger resigned in 2003 in response to the projects “tolerance of problem participants and its hostility toward experts”.

The Wikipedia Way…

Wikipedia has its own set of policies and guidelines, which are “policed” by both volunteers as well as The Wikipedia Foundation.  The  Wikipedia Foundation consists of five members including Wales, two of his business partners and two elected members who retain the power to “ban users” from the website.

There are four “key” policies which should be adhered to in using Wikipedia.  They include:

1.      Wikipedia is an encyclopedia and therefore personal essays, dictionary entries, critical reviews, propaganda, advocacy and original research are excluded.  Basically, Wikipedia wants the accepted history summarized on the site and discourages anyone, especially historians from breaking new ground with original research.

2.      Avoid bias – All entries must be void of any bias effectively remaining neutral on all subjects – especially volatile ones.  Rosenzweig compares Wikipedia’s “founding myth” of neutrality with Peter Novak’s “founding myth” of the historical profession, “objectivity”.

3.      “don’t infringe copyrights”

4.      Respect other contributors

History…Wikipedia Style!

Is Wikipedia a good, reliable resource for historical scholarship?  This question keeps resurfacing and for good reason.  Wikipedia is first and foremost an encyclopedia and therefore is not a good, reliable resource for any student beyond middle school.  Like other encyclopedias the information contained within the entries is limited with a neutral point of view and therefore void of opinion.

Unlike traditional encyclopedias, Wikipedia is a white board site which enables readers to edit the information contained within any entry.  The collaborative writing style encouraged by Wikipedia increases the possibility that Wikipedia entries could be altered at any given time, a characteristic which prevents its use as a reliable source of historical scholarship.

Why should historians and educators care about Wikipedia? The answer to this question is simple…because our students do!  Personally, when I returned to school in 2002 I had not heard about Wikipedia, but I learned quickly.  During my undergraduate and master’s programs my history professors warned us against using Wikipedia for several reasons…

1.      It was new technology and they did not trust the information.

2.      The constantly changing information within the entries

3.      It is an encyclopedia and college students should never use an encyclopedia as a source

I have been teaching history at a community college since last spring and in my syllabus under instructions for research papers I tell my students, Wikipedia is not an acceptable source for your paper.  My primary reasons for this are that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia and the collaborative nature of the site which potentially results in changing and/or inaccurate information.

Roy Rosenzweig leaves us with an idea, a challenge in regard to Wikipedia’s popular history.  It is his tentative belief that “If Wikipedia is becoming the family encyclopedia for the twenty-first century, historians probably have a professional obligation to make it as good as possible”.  He challenges historians to devote one day to review and improve those entries which cover their area of expertise.  Participating in this project would enhance the quality of Wikipedia.

Bringing Historical Order to YouTube.

YouTube is a repository for public memory.  It’s about documenting what is in the zeitgeist now.  It also provides a glimpse at what we remember about the past, too.

That’s the premise behind yttm.tv, a website that attempts to provide some historical order to the otherwise chaotic YouTube.  It’s a sort of stream-of-consciousness archive of popular culture and current events in a given year.  Visitors to the site can search videos by year dating all the way back to advent of motion pictures in the late nineteenth century.  Videos can be filtered by categories such as current events, sports, video games, commercials, and television among others.

The impetus of the site is less historical than nostalgic.  As the site’s creators explain as they recount yttm.tv’s origins, “…it wasn’t specifically Jordan or Primal Rage videos I was searching for … it was 1996 … the feeling of being in 1996 …the intangibles of that year fascinated me, but getting bogged down in the specifics and having to make CHOICES eventually spoiled my quest.”

In other words, it’s like those VH1 clip shows, but without the often silly commentary.  Or better yet, with personal commentary provided by the viewer.  Or in our case, the historian.

The selection of videos archived on this site for a given year may be less than representative – but it’s fascinating from the perspective of public memory.  Just how do people choose to remember 1996  anyway?  What does it look like as a shared cultural moment?

What other ways could yttm.tv be used as a historical tool?

-Tom