Thursday, 24 September 2015

Crowdsourcing is Dead - Long Live Citizen Humanities

When Jeremy Corbyn recently "crowdsourced" his Prime Ministers Questions (Independent 13/9/2015) what he was really doing was engaging in a citizens movement. He wasn't doing that which the origins of crowdsourcing would suggest and I am certain he would be shocked at the Neoliberalist roots for crowdsourcing.

So let's kill off crowdsourcing as a term of use in the humanities scholarship - let's use the term Citizen Humanities or maybe you have a better idea. Let's discuss!

At the beginning of September I was glad to attend and speak at the Crowdsourcing for the Humanities in the 21st Century event - hosted by Stuart Dunn (@StuartDunnCeRch) and Mark Hedges, my colleagues in the Department of Digital Humanities at King's College London. The title and theme of the 2 days of presentation and discussions was “Citizen Humanities Comes of Age: Crowdsourcing for the Humanities in the 21st Century”. Check out the hashtag #citizenhums for many of the talks, the discussion and ideas plus there are a couple of excellent blog responses here and here.

I gave a talk, deliberately pitched to be a provocation, upon the origins of crowdsourcing. You can see the slides for it here:



One of my provocations was to state the bleeding obvious - that crowdsourcing as a term coined by Jeff Howe no longer really represents the way we view crowdsourcing today and certainly doesn't represent the view of crowdsourcing by those practitioners in the audience.


Jeff Howe in his associated blog: “Simply defined, crowdsourcing represents the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call. This can take the form of peer-production (when the job is performed collaboratively), but is also often undertaken by sole individuals. The crucial prerequisite is the use of the open call format and the large network of potential laborers... I interpret crowdsourcing to be taking place any time a company makes a choice to employ the crowd to perform labor that could alternatively be performed by an assigned group of employees or contractors... In other words, crowdsourcing need not require an active shift from current employees (or again, contractors) to the crowd; it can start with the crowd.”

I really object to this definition and to the task centric rhetoric that kicked off crowdsourcing. In this view of crowdsourcing we get the following kinds of value chains where the task is everything and the benefits to participants are tacit rather than explicit.


My belief is that this vision of task centric crowdsourcing is not a good model for many scholarly uses of the technique nor for the GLAM sector to engage with their communities. What I saw at the Citizen Humanities Comes of Age event was presentation after presentation of something much better, much more inclusive and more based on the communities of practice than what "crowdsourcing" has to offer.

My rallying cry of:
  • Personalise the crowd,
  • reach out to individuals,
  • build genuine relationships and listen
    and
  • The task is not everything – look beyond mere utility
was already met by the work of those present and the projects that they represented. There is a wide and diverse group out there taking crowdsourcing by the horns and killing its NeoLibralistic roots to make something more: something with deep intellectual and community value. In short, these folk are creating something to be proud of.

Hence I state:

Crowdsourcing is Dead - Long Live Citizen Humanities


Notes:
The @crowdconsortium has a GoogleDoc that is carrying a list of citizen humanities/crowdsourcing projects here if you want to check out a load of great activities that reflect the citizen based values I evangelise about here.

1 comment:

  1. The MarineLives project was formed three years ago to explore how a community could be built and mobilised to create something new. Specifically, we wanted to work together to transcribe, annotate and link archival records from the English Admiralty Court.

    Our premise was that people give their time for very different reasons - for example, to acquire new skills, to participate in a group activity, and to leave a mark on the historical record. We believe that to gain commitment from indiduals to a project, a project team needs to tailor what it provides to the needs and goals of each individual. We sought and seek to recruit volunteers who have staying power, and who will become repeat volunteers.

    We have invested time in building relationships, through high quality support and training materials, and most importantly through the use of remote teams run by trained facilitators using Skype and Google hangouts. Our cumulative volunteers number one hundred and constitute an active community of supporters and recruiters.

    We have a broader community of interested readers, who we reach through @marinelivesorg and through our wiki http://www.marinlives.org. An example of our training material can be found at http://www.marinelives.org/wiki/Tools:_Week_One

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