Who, what, where? Magnum is hoping the modern crowd will help them identify a historic archive

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The photo agency has thousands of shots that lack proper captions

Given the choice between killing time in front of the TV, or playing an online game, which would you do? Judging by their next venture, the bigwigs at Magnum are hoping you opt for the latter.

The co-operative picture agency is recruiting photo enthusiasts to help it "tag" – or identify – some 200,000 images from its archives.

Put like that, the project doesn't sound too special. Crowd-sourcing is a well-established technique for accumulating data; think Wikipedia, with its collective, DIY ethos. But this isn't crowd-sourcing as we know it. Instead, an added element has been introduced: gaming. Using a series of incentives, from leader board-style status-enhancers to virtual rewards, Magnum hopes to make the tagging process more fun, and, as a result, more popular.

Tasks range from identification (labelling a picture of the Eiffel Tower, and contributing some information) to contextualisation (specifying that you mean Paris, France as opposed to Paris, Texas), to moderation, fact-checking and verification.

In return, says Todd Carter, co-founder and chief executive of Tagasauris, the photo-tagging company collaborating with Magnum, those doing the tagging get privileged access to pictures, fun, and a sense of participation, as they compete against one another. "The idea is to take a task but to make it enjoyable, and to connect it socially, whether that's by introducing actual rewards or the potential to gain in status," he explains.

Social networking is another key part of the strategy. Tagasauris already registers some 2,500 taggers working across the Magnum archive. There is, however, one problem with their work: it isn't necessarily specialised. While these taggers might be able to offer general information, for the most part they lack the kind of expert knowledge that could contribute more meaningfully – the nature of the film used for a particular shot, perhaps, or the back story of the photographer.

Magnum hopes to recruit would-be gamers with superior expertise through social networking – it currently has more than 300,000 followers on Twitter and 135,000 Facebookers who "like" its page. Every time there is a new image to be inspected, it will be posted on Magnum's Twitter feed. Participants can share the photos, spreading the knowledge base wider. "It's similar to the idea of a Twitter hashtag. If you're watching the Oscars, and you want the opinions of people who know about these things, you can follow the Twitter hashtag," says Carter.

Recent years have seen an explosion in similar projects – twists on the crowd-sourcing concept that have harnessed expertise. At Oxford University, the Galaxy Zoo project has seen more than 250,000 people participate in refining a database of galactic images. The American Library of Congress called on the public's historical expertise to help it identify stored documents and pictures. Such projects, says Dr Eric T. Meyer, research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, tap into an innate desire to be part of something bigger: "People like the feeling of contributing – particularly if it's in a field that they have an interest in."

Carter insists there's yet more to be gained by having contributors compete with one another. When The New York Times photojournalism blog posted an article on the Magnum project, several thousand people contacted the agency. "The question is: how much broader would that response have been if the task was gamified? My suspicion is that there are millions of eligible people who would do it," says Carter.

Americans and Europeans, he reasons, spend billion of hours a year watching TV – and are increasingly moving online to do so. All that leisure time adds up to a lot of photos tagged. The popularity of other social-networking games such as Farmville and Mafia Wars demonstrates how compelling online gaming can be.

At the moment, the project is limited to just 50 volunteers – although if this early pilot works, that number will expand indefinitely. It is, of course, bad news for those used to making a living from similar tasks; critics point out that crowd-sourcing relies on free labour.

Given Magnum's co-operative credentials, it may not quite be slaving for The Man, but it's still different from volunteering to help a museum. It's a problem Carter hopes people will see past: "If you look at famous events in history, there's a Magnum photo to document it, but so many aren't visible because they're not tagged. The only companies that could afford this kind of tagging are giants like Microsoft. These volunteers are making a real contribution to human knowledge."

For more information on photo tagging, go to www.tagasauris.com

Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
exhibition Gillian Orr traces the movement from Bram Stoker to Kate Bush
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone