Table of Contents

Trying to work through some questions about community effort.
I originally posted this to question to Tumblr in October, 2011- edsonm edsonm

Intro / background

Organizations that get > 1M hours/year of community effort
I’m starting some research into organizations that might get > 1 million hours/year of volunteer effort through their websites (and, of course, mobile sites/apps). This comes directly from a conversation some colleagues and I had last week with new Smithsonian National Board member Dave Kidder, co-founder and CEO

I think this - - directly or indirectly catalyzing large amount of effort towards Work That Matters - - should be one of the goals (link to project wiki) of the Smithsonian Commons project:
  • 100 million items in the commons
  • 100 million user interactions a year
  • a million hours of community effort a year
- - all by the fifth year. Let’s set the bar high, shall we.

I want to understand how they get it (whatever “it” is) to work, how it started, how to support and nurture it, and how to measure it. And a whole bunch of other questions I haven’t thought of yet…
So far, with the help of some smarties on Twitter, I’ve got,

Also of interest
Who else?

I'm not concerned that these sites get *literally* 1 million hours of effort, but the general idea is that it's a lot and it matters.


Sites that tick – crowdsourcing successes
By Merete Sanderhoff, National Gallery of Denmark (Statens Museum for Kunst)
Please feel free to update, modify, or annotate this list.


General patterns/similarities
Sites that tick do so because
  • Decision-making power: Users are asked to influence the service, its services and functionalities, following democratic standards
  • Business and pleasure: Users are given the opportunity to contribute something useful while having fun
  • Personal: Users are given options and freedom of choice to tailor UX to their specific needs
  • Community-oriented: When relevant, enthusiast/amateur groups are directly addressed with content and services that are valuable for them to interact and engage with (point of ref.: Concept of "the amateur" via Bernhard Stiegler)
  • What’s in it for the users: Users are motivated when they gain something of value to themselves by contributing

Sites that tick
What is it
What does it do
How big is it
What makes it tick

Contact: Sarah Stierch Consulting
1. Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia.

2. Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view
3. Wikipedia is free content that anyone can edit, use, modify, and distribute.

4. Editors should interact with each other in a respectful and civil manner.

5. Wikipedia does not have firm rules.

(Wikipedia's Five pillars)
400 million unique visitors monthly as of March 2011

More than 82,000 active contributors working on more than 19,000,000 articles in more than 270 languages

3,763,257 articles in English (growing every day)
Target group: Scholars, educators, activists, citizen scientists etc.

The most active Wikipedians put a lot of work and effort into the community – not just writing but also reviewing and defining the policy.

Wikipedians are driven by the fact that they are part of a high impact alternative knowledge creation base and that their work gets massive exposure – thousands of people read the articles that they publish.

The world's largest online family history resource: billions of historical records digitized, indexed and put online since 1996 - including historical records, photos, stories, family trees and a collaborative community of millions.

Users are charged 7,95 USD per month (US search) 14,95 USD per month (global search)
Nearly 1.7 million paying subscribers around the world (June 2011).
Registered users have created more than 26 million family trees containing over 2.6 billion profiles. They have uploaded and attached to their trees over 65 million photographs, scanned documents and written stories.
Revenues: $140.3 mill in 2005 $300.9 mill in 2010 (a compound annual growth rate of 16.5%)
Target group: Very broad. Everybody has an interest in their own history.

UX is very engaging and up front: The first thing you see is a space to enter your own family name to start searching, and just by entering your name, you have signed up. Aggressive follow-up emails, free trial etc.
User payment pops up once you’re a good bite into the cake to make it hard to back out.

Developed by the American software company Metaweb. Public since March 2007. Acquired by Google July 2010.
A large collaborative knowledge base consisting of metadata composed mainly by its community members. It is an online collection of structured data harvested from many sources. It aims to create a global resource which allows people (and machines) to access common information more effectively.

Freebase data is available for free for commercial and non-commercial use under a Creative Commons Attribution License, and an open API, RDF endpoint, and database dump are provided for programmers.
Approximately 11.5 million topics as of April 2010.
Target group: Open data community

Contributors are motivated to share because they need Freebase themselves as a creative playground/resource:

“a truly diverse, inclusive group of people who use Freebase's open data for everything from quirky games to changing the world”

“a playground where people from all walks of life are experimenting with new ways of creating content for the next generation of the web; a web of open data”

Created by Steve Coast and owned by OpenStreetMap Community (non-commercial)
Creates and provides free geographic data such as street maps in a similar concept as Wikipedia. People gather location data from a variety of sources: Recordings from GPS devices, free satellite imagery, or knowing an area. The uploaded data can be further modified, corrected and enriched by anyone.
Early 2008: 50,000 registered contributors

Late 2009: nearly 200,000

May 2011: 400,000 registered users

Not all registered contributors contribute to the map; ca. 10% of the community contribute 90% of the content.

On 2012-06-25 OpenStreetMap announced that they had passed 12 million edits and 1.8 billion nodes. (see tweet, below)

Target group: Practised developers, map and open data enthusiasts

The project was started because most maps you think of as free have legal or technical restrictions on their use, holding back people from using them in creative, productive, or unexpected ways.

Active community dedicated to making the site better. The project involves many separate components, and a diverse range of programming (and spoken) languages. The coming together of cultures is key to its attraction to the community

Developed by the National Library of Australia

Free search engine that searches across a large aggregation of Australian content. Over 90 million items from over 1000 libraries, museums, archives and other organisations.

Designed to:
- provide a single point of access to the resources of the deep web
- support searching of, and access to, full-text content
- enhance ease of discovery
- engage with communities and individuals through annotation services
Over 248,421,165 Australian and online resources:
Books, images, historic newspapers, maps, music, archives and more.

First 6 months post launch in 2010: User base of 1 million people

Expected usage of Trove: 10 million people (half the Australian population)

See statistics of development in user-generated content
Target group: History and archive enthusiasts (Australia)

The development of Trove has largely been driven by public feedback to make sure it meets user needs.

Sharing, repurposing, mashing and adding to information is equally as important as finding it in the first place to users.

Users want:
- As much access to as much information as possible in one place.
- Tools to do stuff with the information we find.
- Freedom and choices with finding, getting and interacting with the information.
- Ways to work collaboratively together to achieve new things which have never before been possible so easily.

In return users will give back their:
- Enthusiasm to do stuff and help the community
- Expert subject knowledge
- Time and dedication

Developed by Tim Spalding. Went live August 2005.

A full-powered cataloging application, searching the Library of Congress, all five national Amazon sites, and more than 690 world libraries.

Edit your information, search and sort it, tag books with your own subjects, or use the Library of Congress and Dewey systems to organize your collection. Access your catalogue from anywhere (+ mobile).

Enter 200 books for free, as many as you like for $10 (year) or $25 (life).
As of October 2011 it has over 1,400,000 users and more than 66 million books catalogued
Target group: Book lovers (and who isn’t?) It is the world’s largest book club – connect with likeminded people

Because everyone catalogues together, LT connects people with the same books, comes up with suggestions for what to read next, etc.

Sharing of catalogues is optional but encouraged because it enhances the recommendations users receive
Galaxy Zoo: Hubble

"Just like Moon Zoo"

A Citizen Science Alliance project
it builds and maintains the Zooniverse network of projects, of which Galaxy Zoo: Hubble is part.

Galaxy Zoo Hubble uses gorgeous imagery of hundreds of thousands of galaxies drawn from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope archive. To understand how these galaxies, and our own, formed they ask users to help classify them according to their shapes — a task at which the human brain is better than even the most advanced computer
More than 250,000 people have taken part in Galaxy Zoo

In its first six months Galaxy Zoo provided the same number of classifications as would a graduate student working round the clock for 3.5 years.

The final datasets contain 34,617,406 clicks done by 82,931 users.
Target group: Astronomy enthusiasts and amateurs – kids, families, and adults

Motivating factors:
- be the first to classify a galaxy
- be the highest achieving (earn most points)
- produce new scientific results

“Share in the excitement of discovery”

“If you're quick, you may even be the first person in history to see each of the galaxies you're asked to classify.”

The commitment to producing real research - so that you know that we're not wasting your time - is at the heart of CSA
Old Weather

"Just like The Milky Way Project"

A Citizen Science Alliance project
growing out of the wildly successful Galaxy Zoo project, it builds and maintains the Zooniverse network of projects, of which Old Weather is part.

Help scientists recover worldwide weather observations made by Royal Navy ships around the time of World War I. These transcriptions will contribute to climate model projections and improve a database of weather extremes.
The raw materials of the project are handwritten Royal Navy log books which have been scanned page by page.
On 21 October 2011, 92% of the logs — 693,627 pages — have been digitised fully. The logs of 180 ships are complete.
Target group: Climate change enthusiasts and amateurs – kids, families, and adults

The website motto: “Our weather’s past, the climate’s future” encourages users to contribute to a greater cause that affects us all and our children.

The digitiser is assigned to a ship or is able to choose one – there is both a sense of ownership, responsibility and personal choice in the layout
Milky Way Project

"Just like Solar Stormwatch"

A Citizen Science Alliance project
growing out of the wildly successful Galaxy Zoo project, it builds and maintains the Zooniverse network of projects, of which Milky Way Project is part.

Aims to sort and measure our galaxy. Help find and draw bubbles in infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope. Using their bubble-drawing interface, their hope is that users will find bubbles and note any important or unusual characteristics.
In 2006, four researchers, using GLIMPSE data, found 600 bubbles. Imagine how many bubbles we can find and characterise with the help from users. With this greater data set, and this team effort, we hope to discover and learn more about the origin of stars.
Target group: Astronomy enthusiasts and amateurs – kids, families, and adults

Each Zooniverse project teases users to discover the others – very clever!

Motivation: Understanding the cold, dusty material seen in these images, helps scientists to learn how stars form and how our galaxy changes and evolves with time.

Developed by Finnish company Microtask

Ville Miettinen
Harri Holopainen
Otto Chrons
Panu Wilska

All Microtask personnel have email addresses in the form
Joint project run by the National Library of Finland and Microtask. Goal is to index the library's enormous archives so that they are searchable on the Internet. The current project consists of the National Library's archive of the issues of the newspaper Aamulehti from the end of the 19th century.

Playing games in Digitalkoot fixes mistakes in index of old Finnish newspapers. This greatly increases the accuracy of text-based searches of the newspaper archives.
So far 84,939 people have visited the Digitalkoot web site. Volunteers have contributed a total of 249,370 minutes (5,208,490 microtasks) of their time.
Target group: Users who spend time on online gaming (increasing, see
thx @charlotteshj)

Low barrier and high value: Contribute valuable data by playing fun and easy games – combining business and pleasure.

Originally developed at Carnegie Mellon University that uses CAPTCHA to help digitize the text of books while protecting websites from bots attempting to access restricted areas. Acquired by Google in 2009.
A free CAPTCHA service that helps to digitize books, newspapers and old time radio shows.

About 200 million CAPTCHAs are solved by humans around the world every day. In each case, roughly ten seconds of human time are being spent. Individually, that's not a lot of time, but in aggregate these little puzzles consume more than 150,000 hours of work each day. What if we could make positive use of this human effort? reCAPTCHA does exactly that by channeling the effort spent solving CAPTCHAs online into "reading" books.
The system is reported to display over 200 million CAPTCHAs every day.

Among its subscribers are sites as Facebook, TicketMaster, Twitter, 4chan,, and StumbleUpon.
Target group: All web users come across CAPTCHAs on a daily basis

Minimal effort – huge outcome:
If you run a website that suffers from problems with spam, you can put reCAPTCHA on your site.

Easy-to-use code for common web programming languages such as PHP. For some applications (such as Wordpress and Mediawiki) plugins allow you to use reCAPTCHA without writing any code.

Provided by The Open University as part of the OPAL project, which is funded by the National Lottery through the Big Lottery Fund.

The OU’s mission is to be open to people, places, methods and ideas. Find out about our open admissions policy and services for disabled students, how we are widening participation in education and making learning resources available free of charge - without sacrificing quality.

Contact: Doug Clow
A website aimed at helping anyone identify anything in nature.

Once you've registered, you can add an observation to the website and suggest an identification yourself or see if anyone else can identify it for you.

You can also help others by adding an identification to an existing observation, which you may like to do as your knowledge grows. Your reputation on the site will grow as people agree with you identifications.
Statistics – TBD
Target group: The millions of people (families, kids) who watch nature programs on TV.

Methods: Timed challenges and reputation management system. If you can name a species and someone else agrees with your identification, you gather points. The assessment is hugely important in informal learning.

Users findings will help scientists learn more about the distribution of different species across the country and how the urban environment may be affecting them.
Encyclopedia of Life

Developed by National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian, Washington DC

Contact: Bob Corrigan
EOL plans to have a page for each taxon (each named organism or group of organisms) in the world. They have millions of pages with at least a name on them.

EOL helps enthusiast communities contribute by reaching out to them
- 752,683 Pages
- 52,932 Registered users
- 1,012 Collections
- 63 Communities
- 448,997 Images
- 181Content Partners

Top 10 countries are, in descending order: USA, India, UK, Canada, Spain, Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Australia, France

The most significant contributions are in the form of EOL collections - users are building them at a very rapid pace, with over a 1,000 in the first six weeks.

On average about 12,000 visitors per weekday
Target group: Amateur nature/wildlife enthusiasts (communities on Flickr, education and learning environments etc.)

The mission to increase awareness and understanding of living nature by gathering, generating, and sharing knowledge in an open, freely accessible and trusted digital resource, speaks to users’ altruistic wish to take part in an important endeavour while working with something they love.

Metrics on how much content has already been contributed is prominently placed on the frontpage, encouraging users to take part in the success.
Mozilla Badges

Supported by MacArthur Foundation
Learning today happens everywhere, not just in the classroom. But it's often difficult to get recognition for skills and achievements that happen outside of school. Mozilla's Open Badges project is working to solve that problem, making it easy for anyone to issue, earn and display badges across the web -- through a shared infrastructure that's free and open to all. The result: helping learners everywhere display 21st century skills, unlock career and educational opportunities, and level up in their life and work.
For info on the impact of badges, see
Anya Kamenetz, "The Edupunks’ Guide"
Target group: DIY learners in all sectors

Motivation: To be duly acknowledged and rewarded for the skills acquired in non-formal learning environments

Developed by Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Help sort and tag 8 million archived NestCam images. Since 1999, cameras mounted near nests have shown live, online images of birds courting, mating, laying eggs, and raising young.

CamClickr is a citizen science project carried out online that allows cam viewers to "tag" and classify breeding behaviors from archived images. Will help answer questions that can only be answered using the cams while providing scientists with a tool to search and sort images once they are tagged.
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