Untangling Web 2.0

An aspiring information professional shedding light on the Web 2.0 phenomenon

Busy bees in The Hive

on March 12, 2013

If you have a huge job that needs doing, it makes sense to recruit as many people as possible to help, right?

Well, in the context of Web 2.0, this principle is known as harnessing collective intelligence, which is the first of the eight core patterns of Web 2.0, outlined by Tim O’ Reilly.

MP900433057 [Image] (n.d.) Retrieved from http://c4lpt.co.uk/new-workplace-learning/liso-fostering-collective-intelligence/

Consider this scenario.  My workplace, the National Archives of Australia, is home to an inconceivable number of Australian Government records. Members of the public search our collection online for records relating to topics such as immigration, defence and Australian politics.

However, only around 25% of our collection is listed online at item level, and although that is still a significant amount of records for avid researchers to sift through, it seemed that some records were destined to go undiscovered. ‘Projections on the time it would take archives staff to describe the lists without public help currently stand at 210 years’.

Thankfully, the organisation is harnessing the collective intelligence of its passionate clients by way of  The Hive, a Web 2.0 application that allows users to transcribe documents which ‘help[s] the Archives improve the discover-ability of documents by making its contents searchable’.

Screenshot of transcription process on The Hive

Screenshot of transcription process on The Hive

This concept is similar to that of Wikipedia, in that it relies on its users to contribute to its platform and trusts its users with its content, and just as many denounce Wikipedia as an unreliable information source, some in the archival profession are wary of users having such control over transcribing records.

So let’s find out how The Hive measures up to some of the characteristics of O’ Reilly’s pattern of harnessing collective intelligence.

Users Add Value

2520 of 4517 archival records on The Hive’s website are now able to be searched online as a direct result of the transcribing efforts of The Hive’s users, so it is clear that they are adding value to the Archives’ database. Some users are transcribing items so that they can request the item be digitised straight away. In this way they are adding value to the Archives’ itself as an institution, indirectly as a side-effect of their transcribing.

Users can communicate with each other by commenting on each individual record so there is the opportunity for users to connect with each other by way of their shared interests. At this point in time there isn’t an opportunity for users to create or upload their own content, but as the premise of the project is centred on reproducing and modifying content, this does not seem to be an issue.

Network effects magnify this value

Access to the archival collection increases as more and more people transcribe records, which in turns adds more value to The Hive as well as the National Archives of Australia, and as users are able to modify errors in previous entries,  ‘the consistency and quality improve as more people participate’ which is the case with Wikipedia.

Reward Users First

But how does The Hive convince users to spend hours of their free time on this sort of activity?

After all, nobody does something for nothing. But O’ Reilly explains that  ‘applications can be constructed in such a way as to direct their users to perform specific tasks’.

Users’ transcriptions are instantaneous, giving them an immediate sense of accomplishment, also known as intrinsic motivation. The Hive also employs gamification techniques by allocating points, providing a leaderboard and awarding prizes for a certain number of transcriptions. One of the prizes is a copy of a record of interest to the user, free of charge. Rewarding users with something that is of interest to them personally, may encourage them to continue pursuing that interest by way of The Hive.

            So there you have it! Trust and reward your users and they will become your very own worker bees! Would these incentives encourage you to participate too?

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8 responses to “Busy bees in The Hive

  1. amythepirate says:

    Hello Evie,

    This post was good! When I the heading I was like: “uh-oh! What have I signed up for?” I thought it was really interesting how the organization set up a way to publish more records online than they could accomplish through physical and trained professionals. However while this helps in productivity and getting information out there, it somewhat undermines the purpose- the purpose of record keeping is accuracy, and as there is a lack of accountability in publishing the documents and no intrinsic motivation to publish with clarity and complete accuracy (such as monetary or other benefit or reward), the workers despite working on their own enthusiasm may not produce the most diligent results. So while these records are online, they may not be reliable! And as the purpose of research is to find reliable and accurate information, this affects the ways in which the records can be used. While it can be argued that having more records online is better than before, with it comes other issues to do with reliability and accuracy.

    Perhaps the company could hire employees to check that data has been put into the system correctly. While the transcribing work is what takes the most time, the editing process should surely be quicker enabling the records to become accurate and solving the aforementioned problems.

    • evecrithary says:

      Thanks for the comments Amy! I tend to believe that for this activity, users of The Hive are contributing reliable and accurate information to the best of their ability, because they genuinely care about what they are doing so I believe there is intrinsic motivation present because why would they start in the first place?

  2. bronwynsc says:

    This is really interesting stuff. I heard google was doing something similar by getting people to enter those blurry word images..though I don’t think they tell people what it is all about!

    The Hive sounds like they are really focused on users with their gamification and leader boards. I did get a bit confused though, because you said “At this point in time there isn’t an opportunity for users to create or upload content”. Did I miss something? What can users do?

    I agree though about it being a great example of Harnessing Collective Intelligence. I talked about this in my post and would be interested in your thoughts on that.

    http://bronwynshimminclarke.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/how-does-tripadvisor-rate-as-a-social-media-site/

    • evecrithary says:

      Thanks for commenting! I did write ‘there isn’t an opportunity for users to create or upload content’ but what I meant was that ‘there isn’t an opportunity for users to create or upload *their own* content’. Thanks for alerting me to that – I have since corrected it in my post. Off to read your post now 🙂

  3. miss-am says:

    Hey Evie,

    Pretty interesting insight to the archives. Allowing more access to all users is beneficial because of the added value of interaction of user as mentioned, however I do believe it obviously going to effect the creditability of the information as users may take advantage of this power and provide false information, the trolls out there.

    The adaption of becoming similar to wiki may also effect the perception of the archives whether it will provide credible source for information when doing research, as a past university student we are told not use wiki as a credible source for information – i agree with the comment above the company may need to enforce a system to crosscheck information, and edit data to ensure it the reliability and accuracy of the data – which can be a timely and a costly process.

    Another issue, the advancement of technology for the company is great providing access online however this can be an issue with certain demographics, (the older generation) who are not so technology literate and may find it difficult in using the database. (user friendly for all)

  4. evecrithary says:

    That’s a great point miss-am! We don’t want people to view us in the same way as many view Wikipedia – useful but not entirely reliable! At the moment the format is quite simple to use for all demographics so that’s great!

  5. Theo says:

    Also check out the theory of transcendent purpose. This youtube clip is amazing http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc&list=PL39BF9545D740ECFF

    Talks about the need to make a contribution and create a sense of purpose. Very useful motivation tools when money is not available.

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