The Care and Feeding of a Crowd

  • Shawn Averkamp, University of Iowa, shawn-averkamp at
  • Matthew Butler, University of Iowa, matthew-butler at

After a low-tech experiment in crowdsourced transcription grew into a surprisingly successful library initiative and demanded new commitments to user engagement, we found ourselves looking for a more efficient and user-friendly solution. We customized CHNM’s Scripto community transcription tool and various other Omeka plugins to develop a new site: DIYHistory.

We often receive questions about the technical side of both platforms, usually (to our dismay) from libraries who already assume they don’t have the IT resources to pursue their own crowdsourcing initiatives. But we found that the software makes up only half of the recipe for success. Do you have compelling content? A long-term commitment to engaging with your users? Are you ready to promote your project far and wide? If so, then deploying a crowdsourcing initiative may be easier than you think.

Our very small development team, which consisted of a healthy mix of technologists and other stakeholders, worked closely and collaboratively on all aspects of the site. We’ll talk about customizing open-source software–how we scaled up functionality and scaled back design to improve user experience and production-level workflows–and how that process served to gently introduce collaborative software practices, such as using Git for version control, into a small, but agile, organization ready to grow. Finally, we’ll share our transcription starter kit of forked Scipto and Omeka code and associated documentation for those interested in doing it themselves.

Download the video.