I’ve got several session ideas rattling around my head.  I doubt I could talk about any of them for more than 20 minutes, but if one of them fits well with another THATCamper’s interests, perhaps we can put a session together.

The last year or so has seen a lot of buzz about Citizen Scientists, Citizen Archivists, and many yet-unlabeled communities of people who volunteer their Serious Leisure time collaborating with institutions and each other to produce and enhance scholarship.  Institutions are becoming interested in engaging that public via their own on-line presences and harnessing public enthusiasm to perform costly tasks, spread the word about the institution, and enhance their understanding of their own collections.  Less well understood is the difficulty of finding those passionate volunteers and the nuances of keeping volunteers motivated.

I’ve been blogging about crowd-sourcing within my own niche (manuscript transcription) for a few years, and one of the subjects I’ve tracked is the varying assumptions about volunteer motivation built into different tools. Some applications (Digitalkoot) rely entirely on game-like features as incentives, while others (uScript, VeleHanden) enforce a rigid accounting scheme.  There is a real trade-off between these extrinsic motivations and the intrinsic forces that keep volunteers participating in projects like Wikisource or Van Papier Naar Digitaal, and project managers run the risk of de-motivating their volunteers.  Very few projects (OldWeather and USGS’s Bird Phenology Program among them) have balanced these well, but those have seen amazing results.

As a software developer my focus has been on the features of a web application, but finding volunteer communities to use the applications is equally important.  I’ve got a few ideas about what makes a successful on-line volunteer project but I’d love to hear from people from different backgrounds who have more experience in both on-line and real-world outreach.