Crowd Sourcing

The Internet has evolved dramatically in the last decades. When the Internet first emerged, the content was solely for consumption. Users could view websites, read material, and learn/buy things. This has changed with Web 2.0 and even Web 1.5, as Sheila Brennan and Mills Kelly call it. As a result of new tools online, users have gained the ability to create content. The opportunities offered are endless but also unexplored. After all offering stranger a chance to interact can be both meaningful and democratic, but also create spam. Especially museums can use these options to place content, offer blog interaction with the community, place videos, podcasts, or photos online so users can add their own metadata, share material, or explore history. Tagging material can create new information and help other users locate images with tags the museum/collection staff would have never thought about. Even more as material is digitized and freely available online, the museums can reach a broader audience than would otherwise be able to visit the brick and mortar (probably more accurate steel, glass, and concrete) locations. In many ways, the online material/options, including tagging or timeline making, have their precedents in the non-digital board or post-it notes used in museums to create interaction among patrons. A digitized museum offers options for all types of digital literacy from those who want to contribute to those who only with to watch and explore passively.

There is also much opportunity for social interaction. A scholar can create digital library databases, which does not have to be the old style database that only contains information, but can be an interactive tool. Here friends can share information and thoughts about a book. There is a chance to even interact with strangers who might use ones library to create their own by finding books of similar topics.

The other possibility offered by the web is to respond quickly to natural or human disasters to make a record for posterity. The work by Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig in the post-Katrina era comes to mind here. When the storm hit, not only was a large number of archives destroyed, there was a need to record the suffering among the people. Working with the local and displaced universities, an effort was made to approach people and get stories, photographs, with needed metadata, including geographic locations. However, a poor and displaced population had a difficult time to respond to Internet requests for information. More important was even in this digital age an old fashion mailing campaign with card and stamped return mail to obtain information. The authors were disappointed that they only accumulated 25,000 objects for their database. The database has been assembled quickly, leaving the authors to delete spam. The project was well intended but failed to take into consideration many of the problems faced by the population in the disaster-hit areas, especially such a poverty stricken region like Louisiana.

In the aftermath of the Ferguson incident, Washington University in St. Louis created a similar project to collect material and data to document the event for history. Like in all cased, the university collected metadata besides the file. However, the collection remains with just around 860 objects relatively small. The intention of these group sourced collections is good and in an increasingly digital age, they are a way to preserve digital created material that archives would otherwise not be able to have or get access to. However, there is still a heavy reliance on people having access to technology and being technology literate. There are still, as both the Ferguson and New Orleans examples indicate, many who have not yet the access to make meaningful contributions. Even more there is a need for intellectually valuable contributions. One of the articles mentioned that only a fraction of the contributions made the cut because they were too short or lacked meaningful contribution. Use of technology as great and beneficial as it can be, still requires literacy both technological and writing.


Niels Eichhorn


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