Categotry Archives: crowdsourcing

Yeah, Pokemon Go Is A Real Virtual Thing


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A photo of a gravel street in Old Sacramento with a cartoon figure superimposed on it.

Rhydon has been seen near the Eagle Theatre in Old Sacramento State Historic Park. Beware!

A screenshot showing the Pokemon character "graveler" in front of a steam locomotive

Graveler in front of a steam locomotive at the California State Railroad Museum.


The social media landscape changes so quickly that it’s been difficult for the Media Platypus-ers to keep up with the rapid pace of things. Mostly it’s incremental– changes to Facebook algorithms, reading the extra ninety six pages of the latest ITunes Terms of Service Agreement, and wondering whatever happened to the first part of 2016.

But then comes Pokemon Go, and this seems to be a game changer. A silly game app with ridiculous characters that for many of us harken back to early childhood (or early parenthood) has come back, not to haunt us with memories of bad animation, but to get us out of our chairs and into the real world while searching for a virtual one. What a concept!

For the two or three people who have not heard all of the babble, Pokemon Go is an app for Androids and the iOS platform that puts you in a virtual reality platform on your device. Using your camera and the device’s GPS capabilities, you hunt for various creatures from Pokemon (Sand Shrew, anyone?) and in the right place you’ll find them and have various interactions, battles, and all sorts of nonsense that to the people around you who aren’t playing, will look really, really weird.

This really isn’t the first app that puts virtual reality aspects into historic areas. My historian friend

screenshot of the Ingress app, showing green and blue abstract polygons over a streetmap of a portion of downtown Sacramento California.

Ingress activity in downtown Sacramento. Who knew that there was such turmoil in our State Capital?

Kyle is addicted to Ingress, from the same developer, and in fact the Poke Stops in Pokemon Go are really the same thing that portals are in Ingress. I’ve actually used Ingress and as a result I understand even less of it (and it drains my phone battery,) but it involves portals and power sources that are constantly being seized by either the green or blue guys, and it just depends on what side you’d like to be on. The “adults” who are into Ingress can be also seen exploring historic areas and places they might not have otherwise explored, but rather than chasing silly cartoon characters, they are much more intelligently looking for portals and power centers to seize from the other entity.

I’m officially old these days, so it makes no sense to me, but with age comes perspective (I made this part up) and as an observer and a person who specializes in communication and enlightening people’s worlds, I’m delighted to see these things, even if I think they’re stupid. Why? Because they corollate with a theory I developed about geocaching in the early 2000s, about using technology to get geeky people away from their screens and into the outdoor environment that I think that everyone should be intimately acquainted with.

Without going into detail, I have tech-obsessed relatives who began geocaching, accidentally went outdoors, and without even knowing it, developed walking muscles, got tans, and learned about the natural and cultural environment while finding caches. Today I have a brother-in-law who is a world-class cacher, with thousands of caches to his credit, but he’s still very much a geek, and proudly so.

Pokemon Go is doing the same thing in a much more socially engaging way, or at least it’s really caught critical mass in a way that geocaching just hasn’t. It’s both funny (go to to read people’s complaints about sore legs from too much walking while playing Pokemon Go) to experiences that are directly useful for interpreters ( in that Pokemon Go (and Ingress, and even another app called “Tour Guide” can help you learn about the cultural environment you’re in.) It seems to me that the opportunity to link Pokemon Go and other players with our parks and historic sites is just an opportunity begging to be exploited.

This isn’t to say that these are appropriate everywhere, and indeed, the administrators of Arlington National Cemetery and the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. have asked people to respect the character and purpose of their sites by not engaging, and honestly I think that it was really stupid for Niantic and Nintendo to populate those sites with Pokemon characters (plus I wish that there was an opt-in/opt-out choice for businesses and landowners) but I’d prefer to dwell on the positive.

On the Facebook Group #diginterp, I asked the question of whether Pokemon Go was a problem for interpretive sites. Overwhelmingly, the answer has been NO! I think that a lot of interpreters and social media types are embracing the opportunity to engage with a new audience segment, sometimes even when they bump into you while staring at their device.

As always, I don’t know what will come of all this, but it’s a great new avenue into engagement. I just hope that we can come up with something that’s a bit more attractive than gravelers, sand shrews, and rattata!

Reader Comments: All Things in Moderation


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There’s nothing more disheartening to me than reading anonymous comments on social media and news websites. I try to make it my own personal policy not to read comments at the end of articles on news websites, especially if those articles have anything to do with climate change, religion, or the designated hitter. Regardless of the topic of the article, reader comments inevitably degenerate into incomprehensible nonsense, conspiracy theories, and hate speech. And if the content of the comments section on news websites is not enough to ruin your day, the grammar surely is.

Because of this aversion, I tend not to comment much on articles or Facebook posts from mass media organizations, but there are occasions when I can’t help myself. I was recently perusing my Facebook news feed when a post from “CBS Philly” linked to a news article with a caption about a grocery store employee being “bit” by a scorpion. My first reaction, because I am a jerk, was “They mean ‘bitten,’ not ‘bit.'” My second reaction, which I actually left as a comment on Facebook, was “Scorpions don’t bite. They sting.”

My comment received a handful of likes and a couple of responses—enough to make it the first to appear under the post because comments were ordered by “top comments” rather than chronologically. I checked back a day later to see if there had been any further response and was mildly startled to find that my comment was gone, presumably deleted by the page’s moderator. I wondered why. The comment was not profane or libelous—maybe a little pedantic, but is that a reason to delete it? All I could figure was that the page’s moderator was embarrassed by the mistake and wanted to get rid of a comment that called attention to it.

I was not annoyed, but the incident had piqued my professional curiosity. So I did what any sane social media user would do. I sent the page a note through the Facebook messaging system. When I did not hear back, I looked up the phone number for the CBS Philly newsroom and called to speak with the social media editor, who was in a meeting (presumably about the biology of scorpions). I left a message, assuming that I would not hear back (which I did not). I considered calling every day until I reached the responsible party, but I felt that I had already over-stepped the bounds of normal behavior, so I unliked their page (that will show them) and let it go.

My interest in this subject was reignited last week, when fellow Media Platypus author Lisa Keys of the Association for Heritage Interpretation in the UK wrote about a project that will rely on crowdsourcing for content. (It’s cool! Go read about it!) Lisa wrote that “the website will need to have a degree of moderation.” I am going to assume that this is representative of that Great British trait of understatement that we all love so much.

Moderating content on social media and other platforms is as much art as it is science, and there is no specific formula for it. (Anyone who has ever been involved in developing a social media policy for an organization knows how far this rabbit hole goes.) Moderating a media outlet boils down to what sort of comments will you allow and what will you disallow. Then beyond that, you have to ask yourself how you make sure the best comments rise to the top. This is usually done through some sort of rating system—letting readers vote comments up or down—but some sites, like Deadspin and Gawker, have sophisticated evaluation techniques that, in my opinion, make their reader comments the least awful out there. (No joke: I think their algorithm bans commenters who say things like “Slow news day?” and “First!”)

Moderating reader comments is one of the most potentially explosive aspects of the social media world. Remember that any time you remove one of your follower’s comments, the potential exists for that person to make a huge stink over it, causing all sorts of bad publicity—whether it’s warranted or not. The most important thing you can do is have a clearly stated policy and follow it religiously. A reasonable starting point is to state that you will remove all spam, hate speech, profanity, libel, and commercial advertising. Interpretive sites would certainly be within their rights to go beyond that and state that they would remove content not related to the content they interpret.

The most important thing when it comes to comment moderation, in my mind, is to remember that while you can control (to a certain degree) the dialogue on your pages, you cannot control what people are saying about you elsewhere. If one of your followers perceives that they have been wronged by faulty or inconsistent moderation, the public relations consequences can be distastrous.

Crowdsourcing and heritage interpretation


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I think it is fair to say that ‘crowdsourcing’ in heritage is only just starting to mean something to me. Social media and heritage, yes. Been there, got the t-shirt (have a long way to go but I still have the t-shirt). But crowdsourcing….

Crowdsourcing was coined in 2006 by the editor of American ‘Wired’ magazine to describe the process of ‘outsourcing to the crowd’. This process (according to Wikipedia) ‘combines the efforts of numerous self-identified volunteers…where each contributor of their own initiative adds a small portion to the greater result’.

Back in 2011 the University of Iowa crowdsourced the transcription of a set of civil war diaries. By putting digital versions of the diaries online the University got good transcriptions, more donors to support their work and they dramatically increased site traffic (Trevor Owens 2012). Transcription of archives is not a new phenomenon, it has been happening across public record offices, certainly in the UK, for decades, by enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers. But through crowdsourcing transcription, made possible through the web, a greater number of people were provided with access to unique documents, from anywhere in the world, they were able to uncover the diaries’ secrets for themselves, and were able to transcribe at a time that was convenient for them.

In October 2013, English Heritage, the UK Government’s advisor on England’s historic sites and places, announced that it was developing a crowdsourcing project to help protect heritage at risk. In their announcement English Heritage stated that ‘working with other bodies in the heritage sector and local authorities [we aim] to provide the means for members of the public to carry out surveys of England’s 345,000 Grade II [listed] buildings…The move is expected to enable thousands of passionate heritage fans to get more actively involved’ (English Heritage 2013). Ultimately English Heritage will develop an app that will make it possible for the ‘volunteer heritage army’ to record data while they are out on site and for that data to be published online once verified by local councils.

So what opportunities does crowdsourcing present for heritage interpreters? Well lots…

I’m going to use an example from my part of the world. ‘Treasures of Cumbria’ is a new web-based project (it is officially launching next week – you saw it here first!) that asks users to share ‘something that is meaningful to you’. A ‘treasure’. The website suggests that a treasure can be anything: a place you love visiting, a person, an object, a building, an event, a tradition, a recipe, a song. Once registered to the site users can post pictures, text, sound or film about their ‘treasure’ and locate it on a map of Cumbria. If it works, this project will give the great public, the heritage audience, their chance to interpret what Cumbria is. It will help local people and visitors to understand what Cumbria is and who lives there. It will explore the identity of Cumbria; what is Cumbria and what exactly does ‘Cumbrian’ mean.

Of course, as with any project there are risks and challenges. The website will need to have a degree of moderation (the ethics of moderation and biases that could result are for another blog at another time). It will need to be populated by the public (who not only have internet access but are reasonably web-savvy) and not biased by the enthusiastic heritage professionals who want to promote their site/museum artefact/nature reserve (which of course is fine, but is another artefact from a museum really what our great public treasures? I’d like to think so but in many cases I’d be wrong to think so).  It’s a brave project, but one that I applaud. One I am excited by.

The Association of Heritage Interpretation believes that interpretation helps people to explore and appreciate the world, past and present.  I personally believe that heritage interpreters can facilitate this through crowdsourcing heritage. Let’s give our audience a voice. Let’s help our audiences to understand, protect and appreciate what they think is important. By encouraging people to put forward what they ‘treasure’, what they value, we may just open their eyes to a whole other world of treasures and a whole world of possibilities. Glass half full? Yes. Naïve to think it can work? Yes possibly. But I have faith in people and without them ‘heritage’ does not exist.

Lisa Keys, Trustee and e-News editor, Association of Heritage Interpretation