Crowdsourcing: Opportunities and Challenges

I was hoping we might have a general discussion session on opportunities for crowdsourcing projects in eighteenth-century studies: what needs doing most, but also what people would be most interested in doing.

Many at this THATCamp will already know about the ambitious text-correction program that 18thConnect will facilitate, and I know we’re all looking forward to learning still more about it. I have great hopes for this project, because it promises to yield, finally, a reliable textbase of eighteenth-century writing—something we don’t currently have, but which is absolutely fundamental to much of the kind of inquiry that we imagine a digitized archive facilitating.

Of course, the project will only deliver on that promise if people actually pitch in and correct the texts: the success of a crowdsourced project hinges on whether a crowd actually turns up. Now, as many will know from hearing Laura Mandell speak about 18thConnect, they’ve actually given a lot of thought to how to align the project with the interests—in the senses both of “tastes” and of “self-interests”—of their audience, so I’m optimistic about the outlook here. I hoped we could discuss, though, future prospects for other crowdsourcing projects in the field (or, perhaps, the fields) of eighteenth-century studies.

Some questions I had in mind:

  • What are some of the big problems out there that seem amenable to crowdsourcing solutions? What kinds of projects, if they could be brought to completion, would be the most enabling for the most people (whether scholars, students, or whomever), allowing them to do further interesting and important work of their own?
  • What kinds of professional considerations might hold you back from participating in a crowdsourcing project (e.g., “I don’t think this would help me get tenured/promoted/finished with my dissertation”)? What might it take for a crowdsourcing project actually to fit into your professional life—for it to be something that helps you, rather than something you just can’t see finding the time for, what with everything else you have to do?
  • If you’re a faculty member, are there kinds of projects that you could see incorporating into your teaching? What kinds of things could your students learn better by contributing to a live project? If you’re a student, what would you think about being asked to work on a crowdsourcing project as part of your studies?

I’m sure there are many other questions that haven’t occurred to me, but I hope that these might be enough to get us started, if anyone’s interested in pursuing them.



Categories: General |

About George H. Williams

I am an associate Professor of English at the University of South Carolina Upstate: teacher, scholar, volunteer, would-be hacker, indie enthusiast, nonprofit advocate, word herder, and ProfHacker. My teaching and research interests include Digital Humanities, Disability Studies, Accessibility, Universal Design, Writing Studies, Book History, Eighteenth-Century Studies. On Twitter I can be found as @GeorgeOnline and my Gmail address is george.h.williams.