By Roy Greene
Were the droning vuvuzelas as annoying in person as they were on television? How did South Africans greet the throngs of visitors? Away from the pitch, what else did soccer fans do and see?
Several Boston-area residents attending the recent World Cup offered a glimpse of these and other topics by writing dispatches for the Boston Globe’s website, Boston.com. The Globe’s Metro desk connected with them using simple crowdsourcing tools, with the goal of telling their stories and impressions online, in their own words.
Globe colleague James Smith (a big soccer fan) suggested using the broad reach of Boston.com to seek out New England soccer fans who were traveling to South Africa. We hoped to complement our sports coverage, which included game coverage, Twitter updates, and the Corner Kicks blog, and to remind readers of Boston residents’ international reach.
At a Poynter conference on how to incorporate user-contributed content this spring, I picked up some crowdsourcing tips from ProPublica’s Amanda Michel, based on her innovative work to encourage reader participation in a systematic way. One of the key lessons: Harvest as much information as you can at the beginning of the process.
With that in mind, here are the four steps the Globe took to execute the project:
Boston.com staff created a simple, Web-based submission form that resembled a questionnaire. (Some news orgs just use Google Docs.)
We asked for some basic information, such as full name, hometown, e-mail address, job, plans for the Cup, willingness to speak with a reporter and favorite team. Such details are crucial as you engage responders over the length of a project.
The questionnaire helped to tailor Web outreach and elevate it from a typical, quick Web “call-out,” which tends to generate brief responses but not the longer, more expressive ones we sought for this project.
We set up a special e-mail address to automatically receive the submissions. Once we honed the questionnaire and added a short introduction, we cross-posted it on our home page and on the sports section’s soccer page a day before the tournament launched in June.
The responses came in slowly at first. But on the second say, after reposting our call-out, submissions numbered nearly two dozen.
They ran the gamut. Some were spam-like responses that had nothing to do with the questions, while others skimped on answers.
But about a dozen people crafted full, thoughtful responses. At this stage, I saved all of their names and contact information on my desktop, so I wouldn’t have to hunt for them or worse, lose them.
I then e-mailed each of those people to flesh out and confirm some details, ask for others, and seek photo submissions. From that group, I wrote a post introducing readers to our World Cup Voices feature.
The next step was to invite the participants who showed potential to contribute dispatches during the tournament. In this communication, I spelled out what types of pieces we sought: an interesting vignette or encounter during a game or with fans, something compelling about where they were staying or visiting.
What resulted was a colorful mix of a half-dozen tales over the one-month tournament, including:
- The agony, and then the last-gasp glory, of the pivotal U.S. win over Algeria.
- For one fan, the enriching experience of talking with ordinary South Africans.
- An eye-opening bicycle trip through the black township of Soweto.
By posting teases to the submissions on both the Metro and Sports Web pages, as well as the home page, we were able to attract casual readers as well as sports fans.
Next time we use this approach on other topics, we will ask broader questions on the submission form. Too many of ours prompted yes-or-no answers rather than the expansive ones we sought.
We’ll need to make it possible and easy for responders to upload photos of themselves and events, as well as text, on the submission form. Otherwise, obtaining photos takes extra work.
Overall, this was a fun and colorful slice of the World Cup picture that gave our readers fresh local perspective and a diversion from the yellow cards and penalty kicks.