Crowdsourcing is supposed to provide a virtually no-cost way for your audience to do work that would be very difficult to accomplish through a centralized approach.
But what happens when centralized curation is still in the mix?
In September 2010, the University College London’s Transcribe Bentham project launched with the goal of crowdsourcing the transcription of nearly 40,000 of Jeremy Bentham’s manuscripts, many of which have never been transcribed. Just six months later, and the project is scaling back, its grant having ended. It appears to have transcribed to a satisfactory level perhaps 600 of the 40,000 manuscripts (1.5%).
And what did this grant pay for?
. . . for computer programming, photography, and research associates who vet the quality of volunteers’ submissions.
The project launched last fall with much fanfare, but there’s nary a hint in the early coverage that expenses might be its undoing. Instead, there was the normal bluster about amateurs vs. experts, quality controls, and the like.
Financial concerns may not be the first things that occur to journalists covering social media. That probably should change.
The Chronicle of Higher Education interviewed Philip Schofield, the project’s director, who said:
I don’t envisage Transcribe Bentham ever disappearing from the Web. It’s the backup we can give it which is in danger of disappearing toward the end of the year—that active involvement and relationship with users which the research staff has built up.
The project overall probably succeeded in propelling Bentham scholarship forward a good distance in a short period of time. It’s to be commended for that, at the very least.
But here is more proof that technology initiatives are always significantly about people and the expenses they create — expertise, craft, skill, time, and attention are all valuable commodities that need to be paid for if the results of an effort are going to be worth consuming.
It’s another reminder that even when the labor is free, the expenses incurred to coordinate and manage it well can be significant. And it’s a bitter testament to the fact that grant money comes and goes, so is not a dependable source of revenue for an ongoing concern.
(Thanks to DC for the pointer.)