Thursday, June 6, 2013

Answer: Crowdsourcing discoveries...

Well.. THAT was interesting!  

To the folks who took the time to write a little something in the shared document--a big thanks from me!!  

I have to admit to being slightly surprised that more people didn't write something in the shared document.  

IF YOU DIDN'T WRITE ANYTHING... could you reply to this post and say why?  Even if it's just "too busy"--that would be useful.  

Tell me also if there IS a crowdsourcing question I could ask that would motivate you to write something.  Was the topic ("Pacific Crest Trail") just too esoteric for you?  Or was it just not-all-that-interesting?  


Now... To the folks who DID write something:  Thanks again!  The things you found and how you found them were fascinating reading.  

Someone added the terminal post images to the doc.  (I can't tell who!)  

Ramon added a bunch of nice images which give you a sense for how varied the weather can be.  (Good point.) 

Hans added the discussion about the "Fastest time" to through-hike the entire trail--an amazing 83 days, 5 hours.  I hadn't thought about that. 

And the originator of the challenge, Rosemary, put her post into the comments (so I copy/pasted them into the shared doc for you, Rosemary... hope you don't mind).  

All in all, an interesting little experiment.  

I didn't quite get the numbers of participants that I was hoping for (which is why I'm hoping people will reply to this in the comments section).... I'd like to get a sense for what works and why. 

Thanks again!  

Happy trails! 


  1. didn't reply: topic not inherently all that interesting to me, the "everyone find something interesting" organization style seemed a bit too disorganized, like folks would be doing duplicative or disconnected work.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I purposefully left the organization a little open-ended, looking to see what kind of structure would emerge. Thanks for the comment. It helps me figure out how to do this better the next time we try something like this.

  2. I'm among the folks who didn't answer.

    This is the kind of subject I'm used to see very well crowdsourced at Wikipedia. I googled [ Pacific Crest Trail ], followed the link to Wikipedia and indeed there it was, very detailed, depicting the 41 "official" points of interest and so on. I didn't care to post a link to the article because I found that would be really lame.

    Then, although I enjoy trekking (I even used to be a trekking guide) and that is one hell of an amazing trail, I'm not planning to do it anytime. If it were a simple answer that would take me 30 minutes, I might try it just for the kick of it; since my mindset was that this would take weeks or months of research, that was another reason for not even starting. Quoting from the Wikipedia article, a part that I read yesterday: "The Pacific Crest Trail Association estimates that it takes most hikers between 6 and 8 months to plan their [thru-hiking] trip."

    Here's some research I'd gladly invest my time on: what are the best places in America to watch the total solar eclipse in 2017 Aug 21? That's several questions in one, in fact:
    1. Cloud cover is the worst weather condition for an eclipse spotter. Where can detailed cloud cover maps (or charts) be found, with averages from the last decade or more? Which parts of the eclipse path have least probability of cloud cover on Aug 21?
    2. Once some places are found, what are the remotest of them all, so that the eclipse event "venue" is not crowded?
    3. What is worth visiting around those selected spots?
    4. How can we get there?

    Of course, this might not be interesting for a lot of folks. :) But at least the most basic answers are not easy to find, and arguably point 3 would benefit (as much as the PCT quest, in fact) of *local* knowledge, which is much more than anything else more effectively found through crowdsourcing.

    And, just as I hope the PCT challenge might bring people together, I would be thrilled if anyone in this community would become interested in total solar eclipses (TSE). I've been to the Libya desert (entering incognito when Gaddafi was there…) to watch the 2006 TSE and it was one of the most fascinating events I've ever been to.

    1. I like your suggested research questions. True, it's a little limited in scope (not THAT many people will be captivated by the question), but the research issues (cloud cover; how many crowds to expect; light pollution, etc.) make this is an interesting and non-trivial question. Mind if we use this in the future?

    2. I would be thrilled to see this used in the future! Feel free to use it, yes.

      (Side note: I'm guessing that, except for places nearby hypothetic cities where public lights turn on automatically when darkness rises to a certain value, light pollution wouldn't be a concern, since solar eclipses occur during daytime. Then again, I have no idea how far light pollution can reach nor if those automatic systems exist.)

  3. I think this might have worked better as a longer challenge - even a week. I simply did not have time to look at it other than briefly plus I don't have access to Earth in work and many blog websites are blocked - including yours Dan :(
    It was an interesting question and a subject I'd never heard of. The PCT website on its own is fascinating - ultra hikers - I could never do it myself but am awed by people who do.

    1. I like that idea, Sarah... Perhaps we'll make the next such crowdsourced challenge open for a week. Nice idea.

  4. Hello, Dr. Russell. I believe many thought document was just for images and not to post more. I was not sure if I could write all the stuff that was finding and ruin other Searchers work. Maybe because answer was open-ended and not something specific many believed was not a challenge.

    I hope that the document keeps open and give more people the opportunity to contribute.

    In other topic, I liked a lot the use of document. I believe it will work more in searching a specific answer of future SearchResearch Challenges.

    1. Another good point. Will clarify that next time.

      And the document will remain open for those who still want to write something (or read something)!

  5. Sorry, but I was a no show on this one too. I'll use the too busy card. Standardized testing zaps the strength and focus of most educators from May through June.

  6. Thinking a little more about it... The challenge came out later in the day this week. That usually plays a big factor about whether I have time for my own learning versus helping teachers with theirs.

    1. I thought about that... thing is, I was really busy on Wednesday morning. (I was teaching a live class and still needed to prepare for it.) Now I realize that timing really IS everything!

  7. I also just didn't have time this week and with the more open ended nature of the question, there wasn't a set point for when the challenge would be done or the question answered. I usually try my hand at the challenges over one or two short breaks from work, keeping search notes on a doc while I search or work, but this challenge seemed more suited to a single longer session which I just didn't have time for, this week especially. I'm still looking forward to trying it out this weekend!

  8. I agree this was an interesting experiment. Some of us want to find an specific answer in a short time frame. That may be because of busy lives or the challenges with time limits is more appealing for the goal-oriented mindset. Open-ended challenges are esoteric and as someone said it feels like their may not be an ending. No definitive success and perhaps no sense of success.

    This challenge was really difficult because it was hard to reign in and find a managable amount information.Having everyone engage in a virtual hike of the PCT was likely overwhelming just as it would be in doing it for real. That's what I liked about it. It was a chance to see how everyone approached it. Ramón found several wonderful websites that gave us a good selection of sources like books, websites, images, videos, pdf's etc. Jon shared his experience and a couple of good books. I chose to restrict it to a portion of the trail and give some facts. I also added a few images and a few links to the shared document. This was new to me and I was stumped when I started. The answer wasn't the challenge it was literally the journey.

  9. ... finally think this may go through - for some reason I kept getting 404 & 040 error messages - think it is either the Gorn (as Bones said, "those little bastards bite!") and/or the NSA/CSS doing what they do... with Google's (among others) assistance.
    my choice was toward the south of the PCT, the Vasquez Rocks - mainly because of the lack of alpen distractions and the Hollywood glam factor,
    but especially because it was the only part of the trail I found sculpted so it could sit on my desk while I pecked this out.
    V Rocks
    V R in hand
    wiki V R
    this is the site that led me tho the rocks - good first-hand trail info & pics:
    Trail Journals
    also liked this view from Muir Pass, but must confess that I am still lost in the desert - some folks are very protective of their water caches - not all trail angels are angels:
    I was surprised by the response too - Billy & Nick said they knew it would turn out like that, but you know how Noogles are.

  10. Sadly, I didn't post this week because I was out of work sick on Wednesday and that threw my routine for a loop, a routine that involves Search Research while at my desk. I could have done it at home, I suppose, but I spent my sick hours job hunting online.

    I'll be back at it next week, though.

  11. Too busy (didn't do the latest challenges). Also, I felt I had nothing useful to contribute on this subject — I live in Paris, and my last trek was 30 years ago...

  12. In part is was that I was busy, and only really do the challenges when I am curious if the challenge will stump me. However as someone who has used crowd sourcing as a research tool on several occasions, I find that it can be a bit hit an miss.

    People need to feel buy in and investment. When I asked for people to help me create a map of Idle No More protests (a series of protests for indigenous rights) the uptake was immediate and hundreds of people got in touch. Here is one of the maps:

    On the other hand I tried the same thing for a map of the recent protests in Turkey and the map didn't get any uptake. I added 40 or so events, and no one else added anything. My sense is that because the map was shared less on social media fewer people saw it,

    Perhaps a rule of thumb would be to ask is this something you would want to share on social media? Because sharing an item takes less by in than being a crowd sourcing contributor.

    That said not all crowd sourcing projects need a lot of people to respond. I was curious about a riot that happened in a toronto neighbourhood in 1945. After reading books and old newspapers I still had many outstanding questions. I put up posters in the neighbourhood. Only 3 people ever responded, but one had been in the riot, and another was a play write who had some interesting insight.

  13. No time!. . .also not an interesting topic since I don't hike nor am I able to do many outdoor activities...and I live on the East Coast. So while the topics you frequently cover regarding outdoors areas in California interest me in learning about the sites or flora, I don't have time to research it myself since it is not high on my priority list.

  14. I didn't have time to respond, but one thing that might have gotten me to be more excited about the challenge would have been to make it custom for each user. Instead of focus the search on a single, specific, trail - perhaps it might have provided a few parameters:
    --each searcher identify a trail that fits X criteria (at least 800 miles long, for example)
    --then perform the same set of searches that were proposed for the PCT challenge...on the trail of their chosing.

    It makes more work for you, Dan, to have to review a more diverse set of answers, but a few things could have helped limit the scope of answers. Providing some parameters (min distance, geographic bounding, etc.) would have narrowed the field and been a search challenge in and of itself.

  15. So... A fascinating thing to note is that the COMMENTs about why people didn't contribute anything is MUCH LONGER than the contributions!

    But I find Tim and Rosemary's comments to be interesting... I've run multiple different kinds of crowdsourcing experiments in the past, and sometimes you really only need a wide net and a single response to make it worthwhile (as Tim says).

    People definitely need to feel that the topic is interesting / compelling / necessary. And the PCT example (while interesting to me and Rosemary) is probably not everyone's cup of tea.

    Not to worry--we'll try this again, for a longer period, with a compelling question, and a bit more structure!

  16. I also didn't respond. I usually do the search challenges with my colleague
    Anne and we were extremely busy this week. The later posting of the problem also was an issue for us. We can usually eek out some time in the morning to work on the problem, by afternoons we are busy with classes and everything else that comes up in our school library.
    Really liked the concept and would like to see it tried again but would agree with responder Sarah George that a longer time to answer would have been helpful.
    Thanks so much for making searching fun and challenging and then giving us so many helpful strategies for finding information.

  17. Hi Dan - I probably would've responded but I've had a bit of a busy stretch so only just saw it (actually that included writing a post on a related sort of crowdsourced discovery - using wikipedia talk pages to a) engage in collaborative information seeking for new sources, and b) collaborative sensemaking(/critique) of page sources I have that data now!)

    I'd be interested in seeing this sort of task again anyway!

  18. Too busy and not interested enough. There was no focus to the question (the Pacific Coast Trail is huge!) and no way that I could add specific expertise, either in searching or personal knowledge. As Luís Miguel Viterbo said, why not just look it up on Wikipedia?

    Wikipedia works in part because each editor need only get involved in a few specific articles of interest, and there is some lasting value to the work. Who's going to look at your Google Doc after next week?

    If you are going to do something ephemeral, it should be an inherently interesting puzzle.