SI-Q: Making history by crowdsourcing & sharing knowledge

How can you help the Smithsonian make history? Just by volunteering and sharing what you know!

The Smithsonian Institution is rooted in the crowdsourcing tradition and there are more than 30 projects actively seeking your input right now (try these!). Also visit the Smithsonian Transcription Center and learn more about the activities and possibilities at the Smithsonian.

Listen in as Effie Kapsalis and I explain the ways the Smithsonian Institution invites information in and shares knowledge back out with the world.

Smithsonian Transcription Center: Growing as a Community (Blogpost)

The Smithsonian Transcription Center digital volunteers have grown into a community of volunpeers–collaborators dependent on the work and input of the group–in just over a year.

In this post for Smithsonian Institution Archives’ Bigger Picture blog, I explained a bit about the ways the volunpeers report they use the system and how the peer review process and “eyes per page” can be understand and assessed. I’ll share more about the ways volunpeers learn by doing and how the Transcription Center is a dynamic space in which the process is as important as the product. We continue to learn about our volunpeers’ needs and the ways we can make transcription better.

Working around the Shutdown

Sharing opportunities to engage with Smithsonian collections and distribute knowledge during the U.S. government shutdown which closed to the public all federal institutions including the Smithsonian Institution and its facilities

On Tuesday, with the shutdown of the U.S. government, many of the greatest FREE opportunities to experience science, art, culture, and technology have CLOSED indefinitely. An extremely simplified version of events: without federal funding, the Smithsonian Institution buildings must close, services end, and federal staff face furlough. It should be noted that many national parks and other locations that share cultural heritage stories are also closed to visitors.

The Smithsonian’s current slogan is “seriously amazing” and it could not be more accurate as a description of the breadth and depth of events, research, and access to information. As with many large-scale institutions, there are controversies and gaps in representation – though work continues to address these issues while improving access to physical and digital Smithsonian Institution collections.

There's work to be done! U.S. Military Mail Mail - courtesy National Postal Museum
There’s work to be done! U.S. Military Mail Mail – courtesy National Postal Museum

In my fieldwork, most apparent in each exchange with staff, volunteers, and researchers in different units: every unit is engaged in passionate pursuit of its goals and energetically seeking to engage with its audience(s). These folks are advocates for learning and clearly agree on:

  • the primacy of the distribution of knowledge
  • the need to craft better and more dynamic experiences in person and remotely through digital spaces
  • their desire to collaborate and share their enthusiasm for their work and
  • the need to make collections more widely available (find ways around restrictions)

With such passionate stewards, it seems such a misfortune for visitors to Washington, D.C. (and NYC and affiliate locations) that opportunities for learning and exploration are not available…

Or are they?? The doors may be locked and lights turned off, but all this knowledge cannot be contained by physical barriers!


In the interim of government shutdown, let’s explore ways you can engage with Smithsonian Institution collections and materials, whether hosted by SI or other digital repositories.

Anacostia Neighborhood Museum Youth Classes hard at (art)work - courtesy Smithsonian Institution Archives
Anacostia Neighborhood Museum Youth Classes hard at (art)work – courtesy Smithsonian Institution Archives

There are still plenty of opportunities to transcribe and review content at the Smithsonian Digital Volunteers Transcription Center – try your hand transcribing Carl Heinrich’s fieldnotes on butterflies or tackle John Reed Swanton’s detailed English-Alabama and Alabama-English vocabulary cards. You’ll find plenty more to do at the Transcription Center, especially reviewing fellow participants’ transcripts!

You can view truly astounding images on Flickr in albums and photostreams from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), Encyclopedia of Life (EOL), and Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA).

If you want to help develop Smithsonian Institution knowledge AND view detailed images at the same time, perhaps adding machine tags to images in the EOL and BHL Flickr albums is up your alley. Here are the instructions – you are welcome to add machine tags or even tag as you would typically do on Flickr.

You can also to participate in a data mining research sprint in early February 2014 as a part of pioneering efforts to mine Encyclopedia of Life and the Biodiversity Heritage Library – and learn more about the free access to biodiversity resources. Download the new mobile app, M-EOL, on iTunes or Google Play; earn points as you roll the dice and travel across continents, dynamically mapping relationships between different plant and animal species.

There are on-going opportunities to help build and share knowledge in Wikipedia through Smithsonian collections. Find to-do lists for several museums and archives like SIA and Archives of American Art (AAA) and get editing!

You can explore Freer-Sackler Asian art exhibitions through their website or explore selections hosted by the Google Cultural Institute. Find more details about collections on view and held by the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden – there are so many pieces to admire (and analyze) in these listings!

Want to learn more about what’s happening in related spaces? Check out the weekly round-ups and Link Love posts at the blogs of different units, including Smithsonian Institution Archives Bigger Picture blog.

Education and outreach sites including the Smithsonian Latino Center and the apps and Google+ hangouts hosted by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center have regional, national, and cultural foci on intersections and daily experiences.

If you’ve got a head for researching more, consider exploring archives and collections with finding aids at the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution Archives, the National Anthropological Archives (an AMAZING series of collections!), Anacostia Community Museum, and the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History.

You can also see rich interrelated content from Smithsonian on Tumblr – this is a fantastic chance to develop those webs of knowledge through relationships of cultural heritage, scientific, and artistic content. Check out Smithsonian, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Libraries, and the Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum.

While the #shutdown is on-going, Smithsonian social media will not be populated with new information; now is the time to catch up on what you’ve missed!

Connect with Smithsonian Institution museums, archives, galleries and libraries here – from each unit’s presence on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, and more. Keep up-to-date with any announcements or changes to open status at the the main Smithsonian Facebook page and @smithsonian on Twitter.

That’s merely a drop in the bucket of Smithsonian digital activities – there are so many opportunities to learn AND share the knowledge you’ve developed. If you have other suggestions for this list, such as a favorite app or Smithsonian online activity, please share your thoughts in the comments!

**Featured image for this post of Francis Davis Millet (1846-1912) at work in his studio, courtesy Archives of American Art

Historically Speaking: Transcription, Collaboration, & Crowdsourcing

Last week, Forbes’ contributor Nathan Raab wrote about transcription, collaboration, and crowdsourcing for his Historically Speaking blog. I’m quoted in the piece that focuses on the ways institutions like the Smithsonian and the National Archives are “using technology to engage the public in the discovery and preservation of its own history.”

Nathan interviewed me about my role in the development of narrative strategies and understanding engagement with the Smithsonian Digital Volunteers Transcription Center. In our discussion, I highlighted

  • the potential for collaboration between institutions serving as stewards for history and culture,
  • the ways in which we are actively making knowledge more easily accessible and available for (re)use, and
  • the fantastic stories emerging around the collections, as well as the motivations transcription participants are sharing with us

Here’s my part of the discussion from the blog post:

“Technology is opening doors for people to learn and explore and create an understanding of the world around them.” said Dr. Meghan Ferriter, who consulted on the project at the Smithsonian.  “There are a lot of people doing related and overlapping projects, but nobody’s connected all of the pieces yet.”

You can already see the ball rolling.  Ferriter notes that many organizations have to start work from scratch, but the Smithsonian is working on changing that.  She tells me, “In my role as Research Associate, I am in essence creating a series of recommendations that can be used here at the Smithsonian and elsewhere.  This is… something of a strategic plan. We are aiming to share best practices around the world.”

Click through to the full article to learn more about the landscape of crowdsourced participation in transcription – that is, “Americans taking part in the discovery and preservation of American history.”

Keyword Round-up: July on

Another monthly round-up of my analytics, with increased visitors and a new paper release in July.

In July 2013, my profile and work entertained 214 “visits” in the form of page views. New visitors made up 156 of those visits—with seven returning visitors—and visitors came from 43 countries to view those pages.

Keywords by the Numbers
Sixteen keyword searches brought visitors to my pages in July. Twelve searches led to “Heroes & Zeroes” – all through Google searches. The searches from Google India, Google Australia, and Google UK (two) were ranked #1. Two searches led to “Changing the Game” and both were referred through Bing searches. One search led to “Arguably the Greatest” and one search to my profile; my profile ranked 13 in a Google search for my name “meghan ferriter.”

The searches that led visitors to “Changing the Game” concerned questions of race and ethnicity in sport. Six searches concerned the term “celebrity,” while three incorporated “narrative.” The term “athlete” also appeared in six searches.

Five searches were performed from the United States, with 2 searches each from the United Kingdom and Australia; all of these searches were performed using Google. The remaining searches were conducted from Argentina, Canada, Ethiopia, France, India, Philippines, and Romania.

Here are the search terms in full and Google search rank, if applicable, in parentheses:

  • celebrity retirement sport (1)
  • impact of celebrity footballers (1)
  • “e-mail addresses and screen names allow users to” (1)
  • narrative+on+how+he+becomes+an+athlete (1)
  • celebrity athlete career change (1)
  • 10 examples of heroic narrative (2)
  • journal entries, heroes and zeroes (2)
  • why are athletes and celebrities considered heroes (3)
  • cultivation of celebrity athletes (4)
  • “sociology of sport” athlete retirement (8)
  • narrative structure of sports reports (10)
  • retired athletes in public service (10)
  • meghan ferriter (13)
  • can an athlete be a celebrity (no rank)
  • ethnicity by professional sport (Bing)
  • what are the ideological discourses that position race in sport as a significant classification of people? (Bing)

As suggested in this article, there are limits to the truth of the alert e-mail subject line: “Someone searched for you”. In July, the more appropriate phrasing for me might be “someone discovered you,” with the exception of the search on my name.

Why Followers May Not Be As Important on, a.k.a “Feed vs. Followers”
I gained 9 followers in July, which pales by comparison to the volume of page views. At first glance, this would seem like a poor rate of conversion. Yet that interpretation depends on your goals on – in contrast with one’s purpose on other social networking sites. Here’s another way to spin the low(er) follower numbers: the structure of’s platform allows communities of interest to form around subject fields very easily.

This means researchers and users can create personalized feeds based on their researching interests rather than directly following everyone working in those fields. Indeed, in my case, my work spans several fields and only one of my papers may be useful or relevant to certain disciplines. Through this tagging feature of the platform, potential followers are still receiving word of relevant work by particular researchers through the feed – that is, if it that work is tagged with the research interests into which those potential followers have opted. Of course, I still actively follow researchers and welcome others to follow me, but I am more concerned that my research findings are useful!

Papers, Posts, and Page views
Right after the Wimbledon Championship Men’s final won by Andy Murray, I uploaded my chapter about discourses of age in professional sport titled “The Age Complex.”

During the event, I made a post (similar to a status update) referencing my research. The paper is one of my thesis chapters and explores “age” as a social construction in newspaper media representations of professional football and tennis. Mediated sport discourses of international, professional sport offer a landscape constructed by, and consistently reframed by, age-related discourses that intersect with other aspects of identity – ‘race,’ ethnicity, gender, and sexuality – to create and reinforce inequality. For this reason, discourses of sport are excellent sites to examine age-related hierarchies; we can analyze them to better understand the ways in which age is a cultural resource informing broader relationships of power.

The addition of “The Age Complex” paper had a significant impact on page views in July.  Here are the breakdowns of what visitors viewed:



Age Complex 111
Heroes & Zeroes 28
The Stories They Tell 15
Changing the Game (intro thesis chapter) 3
Arguably the Greatest 1



Profile 48
Posts 3
Following 2
CV 1

My M.A. thesis (dissertation) didn’t receive any views this month, while Arguably the Greatest” only garnered one view. This suggests I may need to rethink the research interests with which these pieces are tagged and perhaps create status posts or discussion questions about their content to generate more traffic.

Referrals and Visitors
This month, I found interesting conclusions from the referrals. Continuing the trend from late June, 13 visits were referred by the blog post in which I was featured. Twenty-three visits were referred by – whether from the feed, from documents in various subjects, or from the Smithsonian Institution Archives Department page, with which I am affiliated. Search engines referred 31 visitors – a combination of the above-mentioned searches and other mail and search engines. Two referrals came through Facebook, which was most intriguing! Finally, there was one visit each from my blog and the status post during Murray’s Wimbledon Championships victory. Over 100 visits offered no referral information.

For the most part, these referrals are pushing traffic from within and through the platform. The next challenge will be to move visitors from other places in which I digitally reside, perhaps from LinkedIn, Twitter, or more traffic from this site.

Once again, English-speaking western countries led the way for visitors. Yet the numbers were much different and more widely spread than June. Fewer visits from the United States and Ireland but more from the UK. Countries like Australia, Spain, Germany, Sweden and India moved into the top spots.

The following table presents top countries by views:

United States 45
United Kingdom 40
Australia 18
Spain 12
Argentina 8
Germany 8
Sweden 8
India 7

I’ll wrap up these numbers with a quick consideration of visitor pathing or movement between my pages. Most visitors viewed one page but some viewed two separate pages. Visitors who viewed more than one page were likely to move from a paper to my profile or from my profile to an additional page.

Three visitors landed on “The Stories They Tell” and moved to my profile page. One visitor each moved from my profile to my post, from my profile to my CV, and from my profile to “Changing the Game,” my introductory thesis chapter. Finally, five visitors moved from “The Age Complex” to my profile page; one visitor moved from “The Age Complex” to my profile page and back to “The Age Complex” – twice.

Linking a paper with a trending event via a post certainly drove a great amount of traffic to my paper “The Age Complex.” If opportunity presents itself, or if there are upcoming events relating to your work, consider directing people to your work via the feed by way of status update posts.

Most traffic to my work is internal from the platform, although I did have increased traffic from search engines in July. This finding suggests that there is indeed a community of scholars at work on

Total visits (in the form of page views) to my work and pages increased from May to July by over 500% – from 40 to 214 visits/views. It remains to be seen whether or not those views are “meaningful” – in the sense of whether or not the research I am sharing is useful for other researchers in my communities of interest on

In summary: once again, keywords brought people in relation to celebrity, athletes and narrative. An additional paper coordinated with an event drove increases in visitors and doubled the previous month’s visits (June to July). Overall, this data can be useful in timing the release of my work, understanding existing audiences, and identifying which research interests I should better cultivate for increased visitor engagement.

Stay tuned for intriguing changes in August traffic in the next Keyword round up.