Since about 2005 the term “crowd-sourcing” has been used to describe a means of researching information in our society. The exact definition of the term is written as, “the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community, rather than from traditional employees or suppliers”. In laymen terms crowd sourcing is a type of volunteer labor in obtaining information on specific subjects. Websites differ in how they allow this process to happen. Some websites will only allow certain aspects of documents to be transcribed, while other sites give editors a lot more freedom in their edits. Basically, these sites guide average people through the steps needed to contribute to cataloguing and improving documents. Now how could this term benefit academics, specifically in the department of historical studies?
When someone thinks of how to gather the facts we study in history they probably think of experienced historians. These historians will devote their entire lives to one subject in order to learn more about the subject, and spread its information. Crowdsourcing changes this process of obtaining historical information in many very positive and significant ways. The first positive is the fact that crowdsourcing allows for community involvement involving historical matters. Another benefit would be the number of eyes going onto a document being edited. The more people that analyze a document increase the chance that errors will be spotted and corrected. Yes, there are trained professionals that analyze these documents for a living, but even professionals can make mistakes that need corrections. Crowdsourcing allows for documents to be reviewed numerous amounts of times for a relatively low cost. Crowdsourcing allows for the research and cataloguing of information processes to be sped up tremendously.
Whenever a product has a positive impact chances are negatives are also nearby. This fact is no different when discussing crowdsourcing. The negatives are probably very obvious when looking at a vast amount of people contributing information. Not everyone who uses these websites is always the most reliable sources of information. This ignorance can lead to documents being edited with incorrect information, and in turn becoming very difficult to search for. Overall it seems the majority of the contributors do have good intentions, and allows for crowdsourcing to be a valuable tool in studies.
Here are four sites that use crowdsourcing as a means of obtaining information that I visited:
- Martha Berry Digital Archives: This website uses crowdsourcing to catalog personal writing of Martha Berry. The crowdsourcing site includes a collection of personal letters, photographs, receipts, and other documents involving Martha Berry and Berry College. The site also includes other important documents that contribute to the history of Berry College. Contributing on this website was fairly easy, and only requires registering to begin transcribing. The ability to cycle through documents to edit is also a very helpful and user-friendly tool of this website.
- Collection of Civil War Dairies: This website used crowdsourcing to catalog and edit first hand accounts of war from soldiers to their families during the Civil War. Editors can contribute here through editing transcriptions, correcting other editors, and by transcribing handwritten pages. Overall this is a very well put together crowdsourcing website. Personally, I feel that Martha Berry Digital Archives are a much simpler and user-friendly website. Switching from document to document is more exciting with its random selections. This website gives you more specific documents to analyze the entirety of if you wished to do so.
- National Archives Transcription Pilot Project: This website is actually the website I chose to contribute to. I loved how easy the site was to use by not requiting registration at all. This allowed for quick and easy access. When using the site you are allowed to choose the difficulty level of the document you edit. Unfortunately, all the easier documents were already edited. Also the intermediate levels were almost all done as well. This required me to look at a few of the intermediate documents, but a majority of harder ones. I dealt with documents from letters to my personal favorite a leaded Plantation report. I helped to transcribe some of the content on a few of its pages. Another good thing about this site continued with its organization of documents into dates, and their completion percentage. This allowed helping my find documents.
- What’s on the Menu?: (Done by New York Public Library) this website was a very interesting crowdsourcing site. The site takes no registration to even participate in. I messed around with the site some, but could not find any substantial amounts of contribution to make besides labeling a price or two. I liked the site, but would like to see more things to edit. The problem is probably the fact that there is no registration required, and in turn gets a lot of contributors to catalogue and transcribe the numerous historical restaurant menus.
After mention my number three-crowdsourcing site I do have to say Martha Berry Digital Archives was a much simpler choice for me. Although it did require registration I believed it to be more helpful if seeking to contribute. For one National Archives Transcription Pilot Project was very difficult in finding articles that I could actually easily contribute to. I had to dig for a few minutes to actually find one that needed contributions. MBDA gives you this by simply guiding you to the need material. Overall I would choose Martha Berry’s crowdsourcing in both research and contributions.