Chiara Bonacchi


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Crowd-sourcing

What do we mean by crowd-sourcing?

Crowd-sourcing is a relatively new digital method for collecting information, services or funds from a large group of people, in small chunks, over the internet. This practice emerged less than a decade ago in the commercial sector, where companies had been exploring ways of out-sourcing labour to potentially interested people around the world. It is sometimes also called ‘micro-tasking’ and, as many novelties in the world of technology,  it featured in the well-known magazine Wired, where, in 2006, Jeff Howe wrote an article entitled ‘The Rise of Crowd-sourcing’.

In recent years, crowd-sourcing has been increasingly used also by professionals and institutions in the science and cultural heritage sectors as a way of conducting research, curating museum collections and managing heritage resources in collaboration with the public.

The landing page of the Zooniverse website featuring Citizen Science projects on ‘Space’.

In some cases, people are invited to contribute their time and skills to help with projects that have been designed entirely by these institutions. In other cases, members of the public can instead propose ideas for projects they would like to undertake and institutions provide platforms and resources to make them happen.

Some crowd-sourcing platforms, like Zooniverse, host a number of differently themed Citizen Science projects focussing on astronomy, climate issues, nature, biology and the humanities. In other cases, museums, libraries or universities set up individual crowd-sourcing pages linked to their websites, as is the case with the Australian Newspaper Digitisation Programme.

Developing crowd-sourcing platforms where tens or hundreds of thousands of people can work, potentially simultaneously, is a very challenging endeavour. For example, it is important to ensure that data are produced in formats and at levels of quality that allow for meaningful analysis to be undertaken. In this way contributors’ efforts are not wasted and can really bring new knowledge. For this reason, in the MicroPasts transcription applications only information that is entered by at least two contributors in the same way is saved, and, similarly, we have developed a method for maximising the quality of the images masked via photomasking. Another key element is that of communication both within the group of contributors and between contributors and institutions in order to share ideas, confront any problems and propose new initiatives. To this end, MicroPasts uses Facebook, Twitter and a community forum, where we invite comments, suggestions and questions, while providing updates and news about the project.

The technical side…

If you are a developer or just interested in what is ‘behind the scenes’ of the MicroPasts crowd-sourcing website, please do have a look at the code that makes it function.

Some of the online repositories where we store the code that makes MicroPasts platforms work.

We have stored it in repositories that are available online on GitHub. Feel free to use and improve the work we have done so far. You might also like to read a step-by-step guide on how to create your own crowd-sourcing applications using the Pybossa framework. We will be happy to answer any questions and hear any observations you might have on MicroPasts software and infrastructure via the forum.

Chiara

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Online Transcription

How can it be useful?

Letters, documents and literary works are useful for several different kinds of research into the human past. For example, transcribing old excavation records can make them more amenable to spatial and quantitative analysis, whilst transcribing historical documents from past literate societies can be compared and contrasted with the evidence from contemporary objects. Other kinds of transcriptions can also be important for exploring family histories, broader historical movements and phenomena, and personal biographies of archaeologists, historians, philosophers etc. To be used for research purposes, however, this (often hand-written) material needs to be carefully transferred from paper form to digital (typed) formats. In this way, it is possible to preserve the records, while making them widely available beyond the walls of archives and study rooms and enabling computer-aided analysis.

A letter from Hilda Petrie to Veronica Seton-Willliams (1936), archived at UCL; courtesy of UCL Institute of Archaeology Collections

Transcribing large quantities of text is not an easy or quick task and requires interpretation skills that computers do not yet have at adequate levels. For this reason, crowd-sourcing the transcription of letters or documents via interested volunteers can produce high quality results, as in the case of the Transcribe Bentham project. In this project, contributors are transcribing the unpublished works of the philosopher and reformer Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), thereby helping to prepare a new edition of the Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham. As Bentham himself wrote: ‘Many hands make light work. Many hands together make merry work’. Another interesting project where transcription is successfully used to research the history of archaeology is UR Crowdsource. Here, people are helping document the famous excavations that took place from 1922 to 1934 at the site of Ur, in present-day Iraq, by reading and transcribing letters, field notes and reports from the dig.

On the MicroPasts crowd-sourcing platform, we have developed an application to transcribe the object cards that were written to record a vast number of Bronze Age metal artefacts found in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries up until the 1970s. These cards allow us to know more about objects’ features, places of discovery, and any published information relevant to them. The information is hand-written in often neat and aesthetically pleasing styles, but can at times be difficult to decipher. Thus, volunteers’ help is crucial for digitising these resources and enabling the exploration of the Bronze Age Index and the history of this catalogue (e.g. the geographic and chronological scope of its records), but also, for example, the examination of the recurrence of certain features within a same class of artefacts.

Currently, we are working on the development of a second type of application for transcribing cards which are also part of the Bronze Age index, but describe the context of discovery of specific finds rather than the objects themselves. This transcription work will be slightly different, requiring fewer text boxes and more ‘free text’. We also hope that, in future, the MicroPasts crowd-sourcing platform will foster further transcription work. One way to achieve this is for both volunteer communities and academic institutions to identify archaeological and historical transcription projects of joint research interest and fund them via the MicroPasts crowd-funding site.

Chiara

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MicroPasts goes to Paris

Hi all, last week we had the opportunity to introduce the MicroPasts project at two international conferences: the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, in Austin, and the Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology conference in Paris.

In Paris, we discussed our experience of developing the MicroPasts platforms so far, our aims, the challenges we have encountered and our evaluation plans and results until now. This talk was given as part of a very interesting session on Community Archaeology and Technology, which brought together lots of projects that are currently supporting people’s participation in archaeological research and their engagment with heritage resources via digital technologies. The MicroPasts presentation is embedded below, we hope you will enjoy it!

Chiara

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Communities, engagement experiences and value

Hello,

In my previous post, I drew attention to the importance of assessing the value of using crowd-sourcing for joined-up research into the human past, but how to go about it? How can value be understood in this context? Value for whom?

Here is some initial thinking…

I am interested in studying the value resulting from experiences of engaging with crowd-sourcing through time, for different community members. The latter can potentially range from ‘professionals’ working in research institutions, the GLAM or private sector, to amateurs and any interested members of the public. This community focussed perspective is better suited for the aims of our project and allows combining into a coherent whole approaches that are traditionally distinguished as being people or institution-centred.

A number of valuable papers and reports have addressed issues related to the evaluation of crowd-sourcing in both the science and cultural heritage sectors. However, none, to my knowledge, has explicitly tried to examine how contributor experiences change through time together with their perceived and real value. This is what this project hopes to achieve.

To ‘capture’ value, I am looking to examine the following aspects, both individually and in their interrelation, for the entire duration of Crowd and Community-fuelled Archaeological Research:

1. the social motivations for engaging with crowd-sourcing, where engagement is provisionally defined as accessing and contributing to the crowd-sourcing platform with content and/or a donation. Motivations for participating in crowd-sourcing are successfully analysed and reviewed in relevant literature (e.g. Raddick et al. 2009, Dunn & Hedges 2012, Ridge 2013), but not with attention devoted to understand, in depth, how they evolve as contributors’ engagement progresses, nor in relation to archaeology in particular.

2. the dynamics of community building that lead contributors to seek satisfaction for their social motivations (e.g. helping, learning, contributing knowledge) by joining the crowd-sourcing community. More specifically, here it will be useful to explain the role played by the following: socio-demographic characteristics; family and friendship ties; cultural practices; the fact of belonging to already established communities of interest; contributors’ understanding of and interest in archaeology and history; the kinds of tasks that are proposed on the platform, the way in which engagement is structured and how the online space is organised.

3. the nature of the engagement experience: for example, whether it is anonymous or ‘authored’, a one-off try or an effort sustained through time, whether it involves exchanges of ideas with fellow members of the community or not, and how the factors mentioned under point 2. have an impact on the nature of engagement experiences.

4. the value resulting from engagement experiences directly or indirectly. Particularly, I would like to explore what cultural and economic resources have been mobilised by experiences of engagement and the value that contributors attribute to those experiences for their own sake. What knowledge is exchanged within crowdsourcing communities? What donations have been made to projects proposed for crowd-funding? How are ‘flow’ experiences triggered?

In one of my next posts, I will start discussing a methodology suitable for applying this framework, and assess the value of crowd-sourcing for community engagement with archaeology.

Thank you!

Chiara

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What value is there in crowd-sourcing archaeological research?

Hello,

This is Chiara. I am a researcher on the AHRC-funded project Crowd and Community-fuelled Archaeological Research, at the UCL Institute of Archaeology.

As part of my role, I am currently working on the development of a methodology for assessing the value of using crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding to engage online communities with archaeology and the human past. In doing so, I am building on some prior research I have done on public perceptions and experience of archaeology through museum visitation, television viewing and digital media, but also on motivations for and the value of digital cultural engagement with museums and heritage more widely.

The opportunity of studying how crowd-sourcing can facilitate participatory kinds of archaeological research is really an exciting one. In this blog post, I would like to say a few words on the three main reasons why I think that this evaluative work is important.

1. Promoting cross-fertilisation and inter-disciplinarity. Crowd and Community-fuelled Archaeological Research will test a mixed contributory, collaborative and co-creative model of public engagement with archaeology. Given its aims, the project can be situated within four disciplinary areas at least: public archaeology, cultural heritage studies, museum studies and the digital humanities. The evaluation of our participatory model for community archaeology will draw on and feed into all of these domains, offering a unique chance for inter-disciplinary thinking and dialogue and yielding potentially far-reaching scientific impact.

2. Contributing to a sociological ‘movement’ in Public archaeology. In Europe, Public Archaeology is increasingly understood as the area of research concerned with studying the relationship between ‘archaeology’ and ‘the public’ in order to improve it. Despite this being a widely acknowledged thematic focus, Public Archaeology literature has rarely addressed the topic of the public consumption of archaeological data, materials and knowledge. As a result, very little is known on how people understand archaeology, why and how they engage with it.

Through the evaluation of our project, we aim not only to advance current knowledge on archaeological audiences, but also to develop solid methodologies that can be used, in future, by researchers interested in undertaking similar studies. To put it boldly, we wish to contribute to the growth of a sociological ‘movement’ in Public Archaeology, encouraging research that utilises theory and methods from sociology as well as archaeology to shed light on the nature of people’s engagement with archaeological heritage.

3. Helping to understand ‘value’ in digital engagement with cultural heritage. Recently and, possibly, partly as a result of the economic crisis and the higher pressure for justifying public expenditure, greater attention has been devoted to try and define the value of research in the humanities. At the same time, within the cultural heritage sector, increasing efforts have been made to understand how heritage can contribute to positive social change (e.g. to wellbeing, recomposition of conflicts, etc).

We would like to take part in this debate, and examine what value there is in joined up research into the human past whereby ‘traditional’ academics and other archaeological enthusiasts collaborate via crowd-sourcing.

If you are also researching value within the cultural heritage domain (and beyond), please get in touch!

We are very interested in exchanging ideas and open to exploring possible collaborations.

Thank you!

Chiara

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Crowd-sourcing, crowd-funding and archaeology

Hello!

We are a team of researchers from University College London and the British Museum. In the past few years, we have been looking into the new opportunities provided by digital technologies for public engagement in archaeology, through several seminar series and a recent edited volume on the topic. We are now lucky enough to have funds from the AHRC to work on a project entitled Crowd and Community Fuelled Archaeological Research which has started this month.

The core of our efforts day-to-day will go into enabling a more general online platform for crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding that we have called MicroPasts. The platform’s goal is to bring archaeological enthusiasts of all kinds — traditional academics, archaeological societies, interested individual members of the public — together to create new, high quality archaeological and historical data about the human past.

This research blog also allows some of us to indulge our more navel-gazing tendencies (!) and to post about themes ranging from public archaeology to research ethics to the technical aspects of crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding. We will be aiming to write for a wide audience including those working in public archaeology, cultural heritage, museum studies, computational archaeology and the digital humanities, as well as practitioners in the heritage and creative sectors.

But in this first blog post, let’s start by setting out the context for our research. Recently, increasing attention has been dedicated to the potential of digital technologies for supporting more egalitarian and transparent practice, as well as wider participation.  One fairly well-known digital method to pursue these goals has been ‘crowd-sourcing’, the practice of seeking information, services or funds in small chunks from a ‘crowd’ of people including as yet wholly anonymous members of the public as well as those already belonging to relevant communities of interest. Archaeology and crowd-sourcing should make for a great fit, because, while archaeology enjoys widespread appeal, it tries to protect, document and understand a massive dwindling resource, traditionally supported by tiny pots of money.

Early examples of crowd-sourcing in archaeology and related disciplines have focused on things like inspecting imagery to detect archaeological features, pooling wartime tangible heritage, transcribing papyri, interrogating built architecture and public recording of metal artefacts. In other cases, appeals to the ‘crowd’ have been made to micro-finance student dissertations, major excavations and long-term community projects all over the globe. What past crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding experiments have in common is that they mainly embraced ‘contributory’ models, where members of the public were asked to contribute their skills or their money in support of research agendas that were typically designed by academics.

We too wish to create a community space where anyone with an interest in archaeology and history can help build archaeological knowledge by contributing to existing projects, but perhaps more ambitiously we also want to have a crack at proper ‘co-producton’ (to tack on yet more jargon!) and offer serious opportunities for traditional academics, volunteer societies and other enthusiasts to dream up new research initiatives collectively, and then to fund them via crowd-funding appeals.

What will be the ethical implications of online community co-production like this? What should be the consequences of crowd-funding for heritage policy? How, technically speaking, do we best build a multi-purpose, wide-range web platform of this kind? How can we best encourage fun, productive and inclusive online communities? How should we evaluate whether our approaches are effective or not?

These are possible subjects of future posts, but we promise to throw in some more light-hearted and serendipitous stuff too, so please do keep following!

Chiara, Andy & Dan