Unpaid Labor or Untapped Resources?

Fun Fact! You know when you’re about to buy concert tickets online and then you have to do the annoying prove you’re not a robot thing? Wellllllll… the reCAPTCHA is essentially a crowd sourcing tool. While yes, it can help determine that you’re not a robot, it also we developed with the intention of digitizing books and improve machine learning. Created in 2007, by 2011 it had already completely digitized the archives from the New York Times and several books from Google Books. While I don’t know this for a fact, I’m convinced the most recent wave where you identify a streetlight or a car or a store front is part of Google’s way of crowdsourcing for Google Maps.

What does that mean for Art History though? Certainly as our readings and many other classmates have mentioned a big one is transcription. Having multiple eyeballs on a letter, transcribing it and being able to double check each other’s work is certainly useful, particularly as it pertains to scholarship outside of the usual “canon.” Like wikipedia edit-a-thons transcrib-a-thons are also a thing. In fact the History department recently had one. As they say, many hands makes light work, and certainly I think doing projects like transcribing archival materials is a better use of the internet than many other things. In a way, ancestry.com is essentially a crowdsourced cite because as the user goes through archives and records they are tagging things that are important to their family which can then in turn help someone else with the “leaves” in their family because of a distant connection. Of course, this can lead to errors, because if one person connects two leaves but in reality got confused between Robert A. Hunt and Robert C. Hunt who were born at similar times, several people’s “trees” can get severally messed up.

Of course ethically the question becomes about unpaid labor, you have to wonder why a multi-billion dollar company is using people proving they’re not bots to digitize its material. But then you think about the hours of cat videos people watch and it seems like a good idea to put that people power somewhere. Back to Art History though, I do think tagging could be very interesting. In something like high volume image analysis having a crowd around to tag images could be extraordinarily helpful. Ultimately though you have to have experts to be able check, double check work.

In terms of crowdsourcing an exhibit? I don’t know how I feel about it. I think the closest would be something like Hans Ulrich Obrist’s Do It Project.

Obrist was concerned with how exhibition formats could be rendered more flexible and open-ended. This discussion led to the question of whether a show could take “scores,” or written instructions by artists, as a point of departure, each of which could be interpreted anew every time they were enacted. To test the idea, Obrist invited 12 artists to send instructions, which were then translated into 9 different languages and circulated internationally as a book.

The other thought I had was Post Secret. When I was at the San Diego Museum of Man recently they had a Post Secret exhibit that was essentially generated out of crowd sourced postcards and secrets that people had sent in, and then they encouraged visitors to create their own postcards to send in. This ultimately becomes a question of what is an exhibit? What does a museum do? How will the museum change in the face of crowdsourcing and social media and decolonization?

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