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Wednesday, July 13 • 15:31 - 17:00
Crowdsourcing in Practice: the users view of micro tasking

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Location: PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - 326, 
Goldsmiths, University of London, Building 2
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  • Anita Greenhill, University of Manchester, United Kingdom
  • Jamie Woodcock, Cass Business School, United Kingdom
  • Kate Holmes, University of Manchester, United Kingdom
  • Chris Lintott, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
  • Brooke Simmons, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
  • Gary Graham, University of Leeds, United Kingdom
  • Karen Masters, University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom
  • Joe Cox, University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom
  • Eun Young Oh, University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom


This paper explores the relationship between paid labour and users within the Zooniverse, a crowdsourced citizen science platform. The infrastructure that allows very large numbers of users to participate simultaneously in the Zooniverse is run on Amazon Web Services cloud servers. This connection between Amazon and the Zooniverse can be explored to illustrate a number of important features in this form of crowdsourcing. For example, Amazon Mechanical Turk is run on this service. This involves splitting larger tasks into small fragments and then outsourcing them to a pool of digital workers. The way in which the labour input becomes hidden on these kinds of platforms has been described by Trebor Scholz (2015) as ‘digital black box labor.’ It obfuscates a number of issues: how is the labour process organised and who is doing it? How is it managed and controlled? What is it being used for? And, particularly important for this paper, what tensions are present both inside and beyond the platform? 


To gain deeper insight into the user activities involved in the collective categorisation of large datasets, mainly relating to images that cannot currently be analysed algorithmically. However, unlike in other examples of micro-tasking, in this case there is also the possibility for individual users to make serendipitous discoveries. Furthermore, this work aims to explore the contradictions that emerge in practice between the two, especially considering the tensions between paid and unpaid labour. 


The paper draws on empirical data from an ongoing research project that has access to both users and paid professionals on the platform. This combination of ethnography, in-depth interviews, and quantitative data combines to provide new insights into the organisation and processes of this large citizen science platform. The Zooniverse case study provides an important starting point for understanding the dynamics of paid and unpaid work in the context of crowdsourcing and peer production. 


There is the potential through growing peer-to-peer capacity that the boundaries between professional and citizen scientists can become significantly blurred. Crowdsourcing can allow the complex tasks involved in data analysis to be collectively achieved, yet there remain limits to the contribution that individuals in the crowd can make. The findings of the paper therefore address important questions about the production of value, ownerships, and the politics of open source acts. These are considered specifically from the viewpoint of the users and therefore form a new contribution to the theoretical understanding of crowdsourcing in practice. 

Future Work:

To continue exploration on the motivation of users on crowdsourcing platforms to disentangle the key motivations such as in this case: a combination of scientific engagement and hedonistic enjoyment. We understand that while the motivation of users does not change the basic interaction on the platform (whatever the reason for participating the data is still being categorised), the former raises a number of important questions about the nature of citizen science. 


Scholz, T. (2015, April 5) Think Outside the Boss. Public Seminar. Retrieved from http://www.publicseminar.org/2015/04/think-outside-the-boss 


Wednesday July 13, 2016 15:31 - 17:00 UTC
PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - 326 Goldsmiths University, Building 2