While user-generated content (UGC) has been around for a long time in museums–the mid-19th century Smithsonian, for instance, asked amateur collectors to send in natural history specimens from across the country–the digital world has lowered barriers and made it easier for users to participate in the creation of knowledge at cultural heritage institutions. Recent examples include the oral history project StoryCorps, the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, or the Transcribe Bentham crowdsourcing project.
Much has been made about how the growth of UGC affects the nature of authority and radical trust. But there are still more fundamental questions to tackle. The ones that interest me now are about how we look at UGC projects in the first place.
I’d love to talk to others who want to explore the whole idea of UGC-oriented, crowdsourced, “citizen humanities” projects, especially by analogy to citizen science projects like the venerable SETI@home or Cornell’s eBird project. Similar conversations have taken place at THATCamp MCN and THATCamp Columbus.
I have a particular interest in developing a vocabulary related to (or better yet, a taxonomy of) UGC projects. This would help us to better describe–for users, for funders, for everybody–what these UGC projects are, what they intend to do, and how to evaluate the success of such projects.
But even more than that, I want to hear from other folks. Let’s take a look at a bunch of citizen humanities and citizen science projects and see what they can tell us.