Crowdsourcing the Dictionary

In hopes of discovering and recording new and creative words, the staff at the UK’s Collins English Dictionary has begun crowdsourcing the entries in their dictionary. Collins, which added “crowdsourcing” to its own dictionary in 2009, is asking internet users to contribute their own words to this project. So far, there’s been a good response; “[in] the first two weeks of the initiative, there were 2,637 suggestions from more than 2,000 different users.”

While the Boston Globe’s article “Crowdsourcing the Dictionary” initially suggests that Collins’ project may initially seem more similar in nature to online dictionaries such as Urban Dictionary, it soon becomes clear that the concept of dictionaries incorporating user-submitted content is not in fact a new one; the Oxford English Dictionary, for example, put out its first call for user submissions in 1879. Rather, it is the ease of submission to and user influence on the dictionary that makes the Collins English Dictionary unique. While Merriam-Webster has a similar word submission project called Open Dictionary that has received “nearly 20,000 suggestions from users since…2005”, the Merriam-Webster editors use it simply as research inspiration. In contrast, the Collins English Dictionary aims integrate user submissions with their current online dictionary.

This project has interesting implications for future projects both within and outside of the lexical world. While soliciting user input is not a new business model for dictionary groups, the amount of moderated, user-generated content within Collins’ final product is unique. Though Collins’ model of user-based submissions makes improvements on past models, there is still much progress that could be made in terms of user interactivity and influence. However, such concessions are necessary if a specific level of quality is desired for the final product.