Workshop: ‘Designing successful digital humanities crowdsourcing projects’

I ran a half-day workshop on ’Designing successful digital humanities crowdsourcing projects’ at the Digital Humanities 2013 conference in sunny Lincoln, Nebraska.

Workshop attendees: download the slides (2mb PDF) DH2013 Crowdsourcing workshop slides and exercises handout (Word doc): DH2013 Crowdsourcing workshop exercises.

I’ve started a braindump of ‘emerging best practice’ tips and questions from the workshop below…

Tips for designing humanities crowdsourcing projects

  • No worms without eggs. One participant reviewed Zooniverse’s Worm Watch, but got bored and moved on after watching six videos in which the worm didn’t lay an egg. The moral of this story is to give new participants a task item with a known payload first. You may want to do this anyway to check the quality of their contribution (e.g. testing for accidental or intentionally bad data that doesn’t match the known value) or test their skills, but another reason to do it is to give participants an early win to inspire them.
  • Go small to solve problems. Microtasks seem to trump bigger tasks, and breaking a design problem into the smallest possible parts is a good way to get unstuck. Once you’ve decomposed it, you can look for creative solutions to the little problems you’ve uncovered as part of the bigger one.
  • Pilot your idea on existing platforms – put photos on Flickr and ask people to transcribe, identify or tag them, ask people to map things on HistoryPin or Ushahidi, etc.
  • Learn by doing, not by reading – as far as possible, show people what they need to do rather than making them wade through text before starting.
  • A strong tagline makes a big difference. It’ll take time to find the strapline that perfectly summarises the what and why of your project – keep at it until you’ve got a compelling description that’ll make people want to take part in your project.

Tough love

  • If you can’t think of a great tagline, it might mean your project isn’t making an important contribution – if you can’t answer the question ‘who’s desperate to use the results of this project?’, maybe the project shouldn’t go ahead.
  • The barbarians aren’t at the gates. In online projects, credentials derive from actions, not institutional affiliation. Borrow data validation models from citizen science and judge people’s input on its correctness, not on whether they’re an ‘amateur’ or an invited contributor. If ordinary people can transcribe ancient Greek letters, they can probably manage your task. I know it’s quite difficult for academic projects to cope with this, but think of it like learning to ride a bike without training wheels – perhaps start by inviting known communities to help you test your project, then invite related external groups, refine your models, then take off those training wheels and open it up!

Sources and further reading are listed at ‘Resources for ‘Crowdsourcing in Libraries, Museums and Cultural Heritage Institutions” so check there for sources and further reading.

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Keynote: Participatory Practices: Inclusion, Dialogue and Trust

Pavillion 0 at the Sigma Foundation's palazzo on Campo San Paolo, VeniceI was invited to present with Helen Weinstein at the We Curate kick-off seminar at the Pavillion 0 at the Sigma Foundation’s palazzo on the opening weekend of the Venice Biennale. Our slides for Participatory practices: inclusion, dialogue and trust in museums and academia are online, and I blogged about our talk and the event for Historyworkstv: Participatory Practice Presentation at the Venice Biennale.

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Talk: ‘Digital challenges, digital opportunities’ at MCG Play

MCG Play logoAs Chair of the Museums Computer Group, it was a pleasure to attend the MCG’s Spring meeting, ‘Engaging Visitors Through Play‘, at the University of Ulster’s Centre for Media Research in Belfast on May 30.

I spoke on ‘Digital challenges, digital opportunities’, and my aim was to introduce the Museums Computer Group, discuss some of the challenges museums and their staff are facing and think about how to create opportunities from those challenges.  I’ve posted my notes at ‘Digital challenges, digital opportunities’ at MCGPlay, Belfast.

I blogged about the event at ‘Engaging Visitors Through Play’ – the Museums Computer Group in Belfast and my post was picked up and re-posted as a guest post, ‘Game on’, for the Museums Association blog.

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Paper: ‘Digital participation and public engagement’

I gave a short paper on ‘Digital participation and public engagement’ at the London Museums Group‘s ‘Museums and Social Media’ at Tate Britain on May 24. A version of my notes is now posted online at ‘Tips for digital participation, engagement and crowdsourcing in museums | by Mia Ridge‘, see Guest post ‘Tips for digital participation, engagement and crowdsourcing in museums’ for London Museums Group for details.

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NITLE ‘Crowdsourcing’ seminar

Discussion Guide for NITLE Crowdsourcing seminar

Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 1-2 pm EDT, online via NITLE’s desktop videoconferencing platform

Slides (8mb PDF).

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you ever participated in a crowdsourced project? What did you enjoy about it? Were you motivated to continue? Why/why not?
  2. How well do the tasks presented in the seminar and represented in the ‘Suggested Projects’ below match your students’ interests, knowledge and skills? Can you find projects that are a closer match?
  3. What else is required for undergraduate participation in crowdsourced projects to help meet liberal education learning outcomes?
  4. If crowdsourced projects are designed to meet intrinsic or altruistic motivations for voluntary participation, what are the ethical and practical implications of asking students to participate?
  5. What are some of the challenges of collaboration, credit and attribution in scholarly crowdsourcing, and how might you start to resolve them in your work with students?

Suggested Projects

Suggested Reading

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Keynote: ‘A Brief History of Open Cultural Data’

I was invited to give a talk (which seemed to turn into a plenary then a keynote along the way) for the GLAM-Wiki 2013 conference. I thought it might be useful to put current discussions around opening cultural data for use on Wikipedia and other projects that require content to be licensed for re-use in context (for the museum, library and archive professionals in the audience) and some of the contradictory instructions issued to institutions with cultural, scientific or historical content (for the Wikipedians in the audience, though of course there was a huge overlap between those groups).

I’ve blogged my talk notes as ‘An (even briefer) history of open cultural data‘ at GLAM-Wiki 2013 at Open Objects or there’s a video of my talk.

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Paper: ‘A thousand readers are wanted, and confidently asked for’: public participation as engagement in the arts and humanities

I was invited to give a paper on my research at Digital Impacts: Crowdsourcing in the Arts and Humanities, convened by Kathryn Eccles and the Oxford Internet Institute.

I’ve also posted Notes from ‘Crowdsourcing in the Arts and Humanities’ on Open Objects.

(My title comes from the Oxford English Dictionary’s 1879 call for contributors to help them get through their backlog of words that needed sources and definitions. Yes, I do spend a bit too much time thinking about Victorian precursors to modern crowdsourcing.)

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Workshop: Data visualisation as a gateway to programming

I was invited to run a workshop at THATCamp Feminisms West at Scripps College in Claremont, California, and thought ‘Data visualisations as gateway to programming’ would be a good way to provide a gentle introduction to ‘computational thinking’ by working through the effects different data structures have on potential visualisations in ManyEyes, the online visualisation tool. I also prepared some material on basic concepts in programming and put together a page of ‘Inspiring women through history’ mapped across time and space that contained heavily commented code that suggested various things to try to get a sense of how code (in this case, JavaScript, HTML, CSS) works. My slides are below, you can play with content prepared for ManyEyes, or ‘view source’ at the ‘inspiring women’ link above, save the file to your hard drive and have a play.


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Conference paper: New Challenges in Digital History: Sharing Women’s History on Wikipedia

I’ll be presenting ‘New Challenges in Digital History: Sharing Women’s History on Wikipedia’ in the ‘Developments in Digital Women’s History’ strand of the Women’s History in the Digital World conference at The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education at Bryn Mawr on March 23, 2013.


In 1908 Ina von Grumbkow undertook an expedition to Iceland. She later made significant contributions to the field of natural history and wrote several books but other than passing references online and a mention on her husband’s Wikipedia page, her story is only available to those with access to sources like the ‘Earth Sciences History’ journal.

Cumulative centuries of archival and theoretical work have been spent recovering women’s histories, yet much of this inspiring scholarship is invisible outside academia. Inspired by research into the use and creation of digital resources and the wider impact of these resources on historians and their scholarship, this paper is a deliberate provocation: if we believe the subjects of our research are important, then we should ensure they are represented on freely available encyclopaedic sites like Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is the fifth most visited website in the world and the first port of call for most students and the public, yet women’s history is poorly represented. This paper discusses how the difficulties of adding women’s histories to Wikipedia exemplify some of the new challenges and opportunities of digital history and the ways in which it blurs the line between public history and purely academic research.

Update: I’ve posted my talk notes at New challenges in digital history: sharing women’s history on Wikipedia – my draft talk notes.

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Paper: Where next for open cultural data in museums?

My latest article for Museum Identity magazine, Where next for open cultural data in museums?, is now live online and in the current print issue of Museum-iD 13.

Site abstract: “Museums have increasingly been joining the global movement for open data by opening up their databases, sharing their images and releasing their knowledge. Mia Ridge presents a brief history of open cultural data projects, explores some reasons why some data is relatively under-used and looks to the future of open cultural data”.

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