Blog Post

Crowdsourcing Tags

Crowdsourcing Tags

     The crowdsourcing project I contributed to was Metadata games (, a self-described free and open source (FOSS) crowdsourcing game platform. Basically, the platform partners with 11 institutions and over 45 of their collections to crowdsource help in collecting metadata in the form of tags. These institutions are libraries, museums, and universities in the United States. Some of the more involved institutions are the British Library, the Boston Public Library, and the American Antiquarian Society. The collections that these institutions (including Dartmouth) have provided are quite large. Partner institutions have provided tens of thousands of images, audio recordings, and video clips that need to be tagged. Tags are metadata that present in the form of words and phrases that describe a specific media item. These tags make it easier to search through a collection. In other words, this activist project is primarily academic – it helps libraries, museums, and universities provide scholars and the general public collections of older materials.

     The ‘crowd’ contributes data to the project by playing games. The first game I played, Stupid Robot, provided me with a series of old pictures and told me to “describe” each picture in two minutes. I played this game before I knew what the project was about. That was interesting because I did not realize I was contributing to tagging because this game never used the word “tag.” The second game, Zen Tag, was much more explicit. It used the language of “tags” and even delineated between “new” tags and “matching” tags that others generated before. This game allowed phrases and did not have a time-limit. The third game, Pyramid Tag, gave me a picture to tag in a word with a specific amount of letters (first a four-letter word, then a five-letter word, etc.). This game was different because to win a round, I had to provide a descriptive word that someone else already came up with. In other words, this game was not looking for new tags. I wanted to play a few other games, but most of the other games were only available as android apps.

     As illustrated earlier, this form of activism is academic in nature. People in the general public, like myself, can contribute to academic collections by providing metadata in the form of descriptive tags. By enhancing the usability of academic collections, the crowd on Metadata Games is helping both academic researchers and public seekers of knowledge.

     I think whether or not playing these games feels like activism depends on how much the user knows about the purpose of the project. For example, it did not feel like activism when I played Stupid Robot because I had no idea what I was contributing to, but once I realized the site was designed for tagging, all the other games felt like activism that was entertaining. It was kind of like playing an educational game in elementary school. It is interesting and engaging, but the user knows they are doing something for an academic purpose. 


1 comment

Your post reveals that crowdsourcing is the act of turning to and engaging the public in a particular phase of, in this case, academic pursuit. In particular, players of the game are contributing to tags and metadata that make it easier to find and search through collections of older institutional materials and collections. Your point about how your percpetion of playing the game as activism depended upon whether you knew what the larger purpose of the game was is really interesting. I wonder if Metadatagames strives to have all users be aware of the purpose of the game before they start playing? Sukie mentioned that people who just want to play the game because it's "wicked fun" are part of their target audience, but I wonder if making sure these people understand the impact of the time they spend playing the game is a goal of theirs?