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Crowdsourcing: utilizing the "wisdom of the crowds"

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Crowdsourcing: utilizing the "wisdom of the crowds"

In an effort to connect the public with cultural heritage, new ways of collaboration with cultural institutions and their audience arise. One of the most collaborative and highly involving practices is the idea of crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is a post-modern practice which encourages multiple individual interpretations pertaining to cultural heritage content and facilitates a unique connection between heritage collections and a network of individuals who are diffusing cultural content across the Web. According to the Oxford English Dictionary “Crowdsourcing is the practice of obtaining information or services by soliciting input from a large number of people, typically via the internet and often without offering compensation”. However this definition is not indicative of crowdsourcing projects that pertain to cultural institutions and heritage objects of public memory.

Cultural institutions are fertile environments as they can involve their audience by facilitating meaningful connections among individuals and by inducing their contribution to public good. As stated by Mia Ridge (2013), cultural institutions have a unique chance to prompt their audiences to connect with their exhibits and add value  by outsourcing tasks such as tagging, transcription, collection, geo-location, classification and co-curation of heritage collections. In order to utilize the "wisdom of the crowds" cultural institutions need to motivate their audiences by involving them in “altruistic tasks” wherein challenge and individual skills are carefully matched during entertaining and joint activities.

Motivations for participating in crowdsourcing projects revolve around the desire to engage with cultural heritage under a common goal as well as the chance to contribute to an emerging research question.  Each crowdsourcing project can have nuanced characteristics by being either contributory (where individuals contribute with data in a project designed by an organization), collaborative (the public can filter and analyze data but the project is still led by the organization) or co-creative (where public and organization have equal roles and involvement in the project’s design).

Besides the motivations for individual participation the design of a crowdsourcing project poses key issues that determine the project’s success or failure and thus should be taken into consideration. Success factors include the type of the collection, the structure of the organization, the choice of the crowdsourced platform as well as the complexity of the task (Julia Noordegraaf, Angela Bartholomew & Alexandra Eveleigh, 2014).

According to a thought provoking article based on the research project “Modeling Crowdsourcing for Cultural Heritage” the design of crowdsourcing project plays crucial role in engaging key audiences and capturing their interest. In that sense, a simply designed interface may be less compelling for the target audience whereas demanding tasks and challenging scaffolding may have more potential in involving and engaging interested individuals. The exploration of two photo-tagging crowdsourced projects (Red een Portret, Maria Austria Institute) provided insightful conclusions regarding the factors that contribute to success or failure based upon the project's design. The study’s results suggest that an effective design approach includes scaffolding of beginners tasks which gradually become more demanding and require high involvement. Other success factors include the season of participation which is higher on holiday seasons and effective marketing activities before the project's launch.



Noordegraaf, J., Bartholomew, A. & Eveleigh, A. (2014) Modelling crowdsourcing for Cultural Heritage. Available at:

Ridge, M. (2013) From tagging to theorizing: deepening engagement with cultural heritage through crowdsourcing. Available at:

Owens, T. (2013) Digital Cultural Heritage and the Crowd. Available at: