The Key Questions of Cultural Heritage Crowdsourcing Projects

To sum up my series of posts on different considerations for crowdsourcing in cultural heritage projects I thought it would be helpful to lay out a set of questions to ask when developing or evaluating projects. I think if a project has good answers to each of these four genres of questions it is well on its way toward success.

Four Areas of Questioning

Human Computation Key Questions: 

  • How could we use human judgment to augment computer processable information? 
  • What parts of a given task can be handled through computational processing and which cant and of those parts that can’t can we create structured tasks that allow people to do this work?

It would be a waste of the public’s time to invite them in to complete a task that a computer could already complete. The value human computation offers is the question of how the unique capabilities of people can be integrated into systems for the creation of public goods.

Wisdom of Crowds Key Questions:

  • How could we empower and consult with the people who care about this?
  • What models of user moderation and community governance do we need to incorporate?

Unlike human computation, the goal here is not users ability to process information or make judgments but their desire to provide their opinion. Here the key issues involve finding ways to also invite users to help define and develop norms and rules for participation.

Scaffolding Users Key Questions:

  • How can our tools act as scaffolds to help make the most of users efforts?
  • What expertise can we embed inside the design of our tools to magnify our users efforts?
  • How can our tools put a potential user in exactly the right position with the right just in time knowledge to accomplish a given activity?

All of these questions require us to think about amplifying the activity and work of participants through well designed tools. In a sense, these questions are about thinking through the interplay of the first two issues.

Motivating Users Key Questions:

  • Whose sense of purpose does this project connect to? What identities are involved?
  • What kinds of people does this matter to and how can we connect with and invite in the participation of those people?
  • Are we clearly communicating what the sense of purpose is in a way that the users we are trying to work with will understand?

I think it is critical that cultural heritage projects that engage in crowdsourcing do so by connecting to our sense of purpose and I would strongly suggest that projects think about articulating the sense of purpose that a given project connects to when developing user personas and that that sense of purpose should be evident in the way a project is presented and described to the public.

Example Cultural Heritage Crowdsourcing Projects

Along with these questions I figured I would share a list of different kinds of projects I consider to be crowdsourcing projects in the cultural heritage domain. I’ve only included projects that I think are doing some of these things very well and I have also tried to list out a diverse set of different kinds of projects.

Citizen Archivist Dashboard
Where citizen archivists can tag, transcribe, edit articles, upload scans, and participating in contests all related to the records of the US National Archives.

User’s correct ocr’ed newspaper, upload images,  tagged items, post comments and add lists.

The GLAM-WIKI project supports GLAMs and other institutions who want to work with Wikimedia to produce open-access, freely-reusable content for the public.

Old Weather
Old Weather invites you to help reconstruct the climate by transcribing old weather records from ships logs.

Galaxy Zoo
Interactive project that allows the user to participate in a large-scale project of research: classifying millions of images of galaxies found in the Sloan Digital Sky.

UK Sound Map
The UK Soundmap, invited people to record the sounds of their environment, be it at home, work or play.

What’s on the menu
Help The New York Public Library improve a unique collection “We’re transcribing our historical restaurant menus, dish by dish, so that they can be searched by what people were eating back in the day. It’s a big job so we need your help!”

A place where you can help museums describe their collections by applying keywords, or tags, to objects.

Further Reading & Viewing

My thinking on these issues has been shaped by a range of different talks, presentations and papers. The list below is more of a greatest hits than a comprehensive bibliography.

Ahn, L. von. (2006). Human Computation. Google TechTalks.

Brumfield, B. W. (2012, March 17). Collaborative Manuscript Transcription: Crowdsourcing at IMLS WebWise 2012. Collaborative Manuscript Transcription. Retrieved April 25, 2012, from

Clark, A. (2008). Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension. Oxford University Press, USA.

Crowdsourcing Cultural Heritage: The Objectives Are Upside Down

deterding, sebastian. (2011, February 19). Meaningful Play: Getting Gamification Right.

Ford, P. (2011, January 6). The Web Is a Customer Service Medium (

Gee, J. P. (2000). Identity as an analytic lens for research in education. Review of research in education, 25(1), 99.

Gee, James Paul. (2003). What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (New Ed.). Palgrave Macmillan.

Holley, R. (2010). Crowdsourcing: How and Why Should Libraries Do It? D-Lib Magazine, 16(3/4). doi:10.1045/march2010-holley

Hutchins, E. (1995). How a Cockpit Remembers Its Speed. Cognitive Science, 19, 288, 265.

Juul, J. (2011, April 2). Gamification Backlash Roundup. The Ludologist.

Karen Smith-Yoshimura. (2012). Social Metadata for Libraries, Archives, and Museums: Executive Summary. Dublin, Ohio:: OCLC Research. Retrieved from

Oomen, J., & Aroyo, L. (2011). Crowdsourcing in the cultural heritage domain: Opportunities and challenges. Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Communities and Technologies (pp. 138–149).