Crowdsourcing is a method of digital humanities that uses public involvement to compute data or obtain information for a particular project. The work can be maintained by any of the public users and is reliant on the public’s participation.
The main benefit of crowdsourcing is that project developers can harness the power of the public to accomplish a task quicker. Tasks can be broken down into smaller components, so that one contributor can sufficiently accomplish the task in half the time. For example, the OpenStreetMap project divides maps into small pieces, so different users can map different areas. This tactic allows the project to be divided into smaller, but manageable pieces that do not require a large time commitment from the user. Another benefit of crowdsourcing is the varying areas of expertise amongst the contributors. People can collaborate to correct mistakes, add new data, or create revolutionary work that is only possible due to the presence of several different minds. Contributors tend to be drawn to projects that focus on areas they themselves are interested in, which allows the project to acquire high-quality employees free of charge. The capability of crowdsourcing to be done from anywhere via smartphones, thus making it easy for the contributors, makes the work more obtainable by the public. For example apps like, MapSwipe and Waze allow users to update maps from their smartphones. The ethical benefits of crowdsourcing are also hugely beneficial. Projects like, MapSwipe and MapGive that allow users to develop maps for developing nations by annotating satellite images, provides them with a sense of accomplishment knowing they are helping people in need. The ethical aspect can help draw contributors, who are interested in good will. There are plenty of benefits in using crowdsourcing as a means of developing project, but the main theme is that the ability to draw a wide spectrum of contributors, which enables the project to be completed sufficiently and in depth.
Using crowdsourcing for DH projects does have some drawbacks. The projects examined like, MapSwipe and the Bentham project, need a substantial amount of users in order to achieve the goals of the project. But it seems hard to actually entice users to participate in these projects. Without any tangible evidence of their work providing benefits, Mapswipe users might simply not want to waste their time with these applications. With the Bentham project, members need to dedicate a substantial amount of time to only make slight progress, so this might turn people away as well. Along the same lines, another issue with crowdsourcing these types of projects is retaining users and motivating them to continue to contribute. The Bentham website assigns a point system, but this does not yield any real rewards for members of the site. Similarly MapSwipe tracks users’ levels of progress, but does not offer any incentive for them to keep using the platform. With crowdsourcing, there is also a question of sacrificing quality in order to finish these projects. Something like MapSwipe makes things simple, but with the Bentham project and MapGive, anyone can edit or change anything. Unless someone consistently tracks changes and makes sure they are accurate, there is a risk of losing quality when relying on random members of the public.
- Zach Kleinbaum & Brett Mele