Digital research projects often seek out large-scale data sets but have a small budget to achieve them. In their pursuit of using technology to discover something new, some scholars have turned to crowdsourcing strategies, where the efforts of individual volunteers can contribute to collective, significant data outcomes. How can examples of successful crowdsourcing projects inform future digital research initiatives? By looking at current examples of digital research projects using crowdsourcing, this research proposes new models for amassing data through the assistance of engaged publics. Inspired by the problems posed by building a large-scale database of metadata from mid-20th century small-press ephemera, this inquiry explores what outreach strategies work for different kinds of projects and with which publics. This research performs a qualitative content analysis of more than thirty digital research initiatives that rely on crowdsourcing strategies to amass data. Through their project websites, the initiatives were coded to determine the factors that motivated contributors and the electronic interfaces employed for digital delivery. The models created from this research fall along a spectrum with minimal requirements for technology and programming capacity to deploy strategies at one end and sophisticated requirements at the other. Motivational factors discovered include competition and reward systems inspired by games, personal contributions to discovery and historical narratives, and the pure entertainment of interest-driven learning. By identifying strategies that can inform approaches to scaling up digital research initiatives, these models provide a guide for scholars with boundless ideas and limited budgets.
crowdsourcing, digital research, digital humanities, project management, motivation
Copyright © 2012 Melody H. Dworak
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