In 2011, the New York Public Library (NYPL) released 9,000 digitized restaurant menus with “delicious data” that had been “frozen as pixels,” making the menus difficult to search, index, and discover online. Along with the menus, the NYPL launched an interface that asked the public to help transcribe the thousands of menus and the hundreds of thousands of dishes. In only three months, the menus (and dishes) were fully transcribed.
The success of NYPL’s crowdsourced What’s on the Menu? demonstrates how enthusiastically public audiences respond to a well-defined project to which they can contribute through an expertly designed interface. While crowdsourcing has been used in the corporate world as a way to outsource tasks to nonemployees, it is increasingly being used in cultural and academic institutions for projects that seek to harness the energy and brainpower of the masses to complete specific tasks more quickly and inexpensively than would otherwise be possible.