Crowdsourcing in the Museum

Crowdsourcing in the museum can be defined as ‘asking the public to help with tasks that contribute to a shared, significant goal or research interest…The activities and/or goals should be inherently rewarding [for both parties]’ (Ridge 2016).

With what we had learnt in class and this in mind, I set out to give my services in a museum crowdsourcing project. On Mia’s online blog, there is a long list of active crowdsourcing projects in cultural heritage – so I began there.

I actually found it quite surprising that most of the projects involved transcribing texts. In our class we emphasised the importance of small, preferably fun, ‘microtasks’ that have a reward for the volunteer’s participation (whether that is a sense of community, recognition or altruism, or other external rewards). From what I could see from these examples, this was not the case. I have always been interested in war history and personal diaries, so I was drawn to ‘DIY History’ and ‘Operation War Diary’ as they sound fun and accessible. I was expecting an easy and accessible site that I could master quickly and then start to tackle a task. However, with Operation War Diary I was presented with a tutorial that I was told would take 10 minutes – an immediate discouragement. When I did have a go, it was apparent that even the tutorial was meant for the 1% of site visitors that have a good grip of technology and lots of time (I decided I did not have either!).


DIY History, too, initially sounded like a great idea, but required me to register with the website and I found that the most interesting WWI and WWII letters had already been done. So, both websites required a lot of time from the site visitor, who is not really getting a lot in return apart from a sense of achievement if they manage to work out the site. I think perhaps I am the wrong audience for this site, which is a shame as I would have liked to contribute something to a subject I have an interest in.


I also had a quick look at ‘What’s on the menu?’, because as a big food lover it caught my attention. Whilst I found menus from the 1850’s incredibly interesting (who knew you could get fried frogs legs with tartare sauce?), just like the wartime letters most menus were already transcribed and left me feeling dissatisfied with what I could contribute. ‘What’s on the menu?’ has been active since 2011, so this is bound to happen. However, it is worth considering how many people have been dissuaded to devote some time to the website because of the same reason. There is nothing more annoying than being asked for help and then finding the task appears to have been completed.


I am left a little dissatisfied with my findings about this type of museum crowdsourcing. Transcribing is an important task, but does not seem accessible in these cases to even the interested site visitor. Obviously some people do contribute, but could there be another way to involve more people interested in the subject matter and provide them a more tangible ‘reward’?

p.s. While we’re talking about using the crowd…this photographer is crowdfunding to create a book out of his candid pictures of London!

Ridge, M. (2016). Workshop: Crowdsourcing and Cultural Heritage, Rice University. Mia Ridge. Available from [Accessed 20 November 2016].

Featured Image by Karen Brighton, ‘City Rythms II’


3 thoughts on “Crowdsourcing in the Museum

  1. Hey Jess,
    I could have sworn I commented on this post already, but I guess not. Anyway. I appreciate that you took the issues that we discussed in class and focused on them in this post. I found that I experienced the same things. When there are too many barriers to participation, we (as the crowd) struggle to get engaged and the crowdsourcing looses it purpose. Much like my mapping website, people had already done the convenient/interesting areas so than others are left with the….not so interesting.
    Do you have any ideas about how they could make the less interesting transcriptions more fun? After a website or campaign has been around for 6 years, maybe they could think about rewarding people with things? Stickers, a copy of the transcription mailed to them…something like that? OH! Maybe they could bring some gamification into it all too? Fun sounds, rewards for speed or number of sentences done.
    Lots to think about for successful crowdsourcing for topic that may not be super exciting to everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s a great idea, I think a gamification or reward system would be an excellent way of motivating less enthusiastic people. Its also a vicious circle, because obviously not everything is interesting to transcribe, but it all needs doing! So definitely a small reward for helping out might be a good way of doing this. Like you said, even an email copy would give me a sense of achievement. Thanks for the interesting comment!


  3. I suppose not all activities can be fun. After reading your blog I went had a look at different crowdsourced projects and was left with the same impression. I think the gamification principle in here would help with the boredom result of transcribing and you could catch a more participative audience.


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