Sourcing the Crowd(s)

Growing up a Latter-day Saint, I had the opportunity to be involved with the Church’s genealogical efforts. An integral part of genealogy is having indexed records for the end users of the primary documents. An indexed record is much easier to use as it provides machine readable text that can be searched. Anyone who has tried to use a census or birth certificate that was not indexed can attest to the blessings of indexed records. The LDS church goes about indexing records by crowd sourcing the work. They developed a standalone software that downloads “batches” of records that the indexer then transcribes and uploads to the Church. I have indexed various records and at one point, the Church had put out an app that allowed you to transcribe a document a piece at a time. In essence, the indexer could download the document to their mobile device and work on it periodically throughout the week. My brother, who has a private family therapy practice, would spend a couple minutes working a document as he waited for his next appointment. By way of accuracy, the LDS church would have multiple people index the same document. If discrepancies arose, an arbitrator would be assigned (usually someone who has been trained) to mitigate the differences. The whole process of crowd sourcing for the LDS church has worked well and their is continued emphasis placed on the need for more indexers. My experience with indexing provided a framework of interest with Crowd sourcing.

I found both the articles on Wikipedia (Roy Rosenzweig’s Can History be Open Source?¬†Wikipedia and the Future of the Past and Leslie Madsen-Brooks’ article Engendering Online History: Wikipedia vs. Ancestry.com) very interesting. I had always been taught, especially in high school and in college, that Wikipedia is not a reliable source. Now Roy Rosenzweig does a comparative study to find that Wikipedia is not as inaccurate on facts as it is often made out to be. Roy’s article is a bit dated, it being written in 2006 and I am left wondering if his figures would still be representative. Even still, I had been told not to cite Wikipedia in any scholarly writing. Thus I was surprised to find, when scanning footnotes in the last three years of publications in the Journal of Mormon History, to find a couple articles with Wikipedia citations. One article had upwards of five or six different Wikipedia citations. Is there a shift in the acceptance of Wikipedia and its crowd sourced history? If there has been a shift, I was not informed of it. I still feel that Wikipedia is in a sort of Limbo. It is not the ramblings of someone online as it declares an NPOV (neutral point of view) with its content yet it is not scholarly work since it puts the emphasis on the majority consensus and not scholarly research. IN addition, scholars do use Wikipedia, or specialty wiki pages, in academic settings. During my undergraduate, my GIS/Cartography professor was a huge proponent of wiki.gis.com. In each class I took from him, and I took several since I was a GIS major, he did not assign a textbook. Instead we would use the GIS wiki and other sources to cover that weeks materials. In addition, each week we were required to make a significant contribution to the GIS wiki. He laid out criteria for what constituted a significant contribution and each week we edited the wiki and then emailed him the page we edited. He then, with our username, could check the webpages history to see the changes we made. This was his way of improving the wiki and providing a free online resource int he field of GIS. It is interesting of note that my opinion of the GIS wiki is much higher than of Wikipedia in general. I am left to ask why such a disparity in opinions?

I really enjoyed Rebecca Onion’s article Snapshots of History from Slate. She articulated some of the fears that I have with the use of social media, in her case Twitter,with the history discipline. I found it very sad that one of the accounts users did not care to try to include any attribution. As a historian and academic, that is very discouraging and depressing. Rebecca is able to articulate many different issues that these accounts create. As I read her article, I kept thinking of last weeks article Life on the outside: collections, contexts, and the wild, wild web by Tim Sherratt. Tim was able to show the impact of social history in a positive way, as it increased traffic to archives and museums but Rebecca Onion is able to show the “dark” side social media. I am left trying to parse out my opinion on crowd sourcing when i have such a negative opinion on social media’s involvement in history. I am not entirely prepared to articulate my position but I do think that Trevor Owens post The Crowd and The Library articulates well that the terms crowd and sourcing are somewhat misleading. I like, instead, the idea of engaged enthusiast volunteers.

In total, I am left to ponder on this topic further. While I gained a better understanding of Wikipedia and Ancestry.com, I am not entirely sure where my opinion falls on their methodologies. We live in an age where the internet has brought about a globalization on a digital scale. Collaboration across continents can be easily realized and  should be utilized. Crowd sourcing, then, is a powerful tool and wonderful opportunity. Yet the implementation and ethics are still being worked out.

 

Sourcing the Crowd(s)
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