Games With A Purpose (GWAP)

This is a short essay I wrote for Metadata class on creating metadata with Games With A Purpose. They are fascinating! I would love to develop a game for the institution I work at where employees identify people in old photographs. We do the best we can in the image database, but drawing from a collective knowledge-base would be so much more effective.


When considering who should create metadata, some advantages of turning to crowds include being able to draw from a collective knowledge-base, spending less time to create metadata for large collections, and often spending less money by soliciting volunteers or users to contribute metadata within communities they are already a part of. There are some disadvantages to crowd-generated (or crowdsourced) metadata, including lack of expertise and controlled vocabulary among contributors, but collaboration between metadata professionals and the crowds creating metadata can assuage this downside to some degree. One interesting crowd-generated metadata method is through Games With A Purpose (GWAP).

GWAP takes advantage of the fact that “humans, as they play, can solve problems that computers can’t yet solve” (von Ahn, 2006). The ESP Game, for example, involves two players working individually to come up with synonymous labels for the same image. GWAP use can also contribute to improved metadata in the Semantic web. Online content is ever-expanding in quantity and dynamic in nature, and it can be difficult to convince users to create metadata for content they create and modify. Although many users are able to create tag sets through Web 2.0 applications, this practice does not make the web truly semantically navigable (Siorpaes, 2008). However, through the motivating and entertaining structure of a game, semantic information can potentially be added on a large-enough scale to make the realization of a more thoroughly Semantic Web a viable concept.

The list of applications that have the potential to benefit from enhanced metadata via GWAP will continue to grow and already includes increased accessibility programs for the visually impaired, language translation, monitoring of security cameras, and text summarization (von Ahn, 2006). Projects that are already taking advantage of GWAP theory and technology include transcription of older print material that has been digitized called ReCAPTCHA, an image annotation game called KissKissBan, similar to the ESP Game but with a “blocker” player to prevent cheating, a Dutch game called Waisda? used for labeling audio/visual material, and games for music and sound annotation to enhance searchability including TagATune and Herd It, (von Ahn, 2009; Ho, 2009; Gligorov, 2011; Law, 2007; Barrington, 2009).

Luis von Ahn, an original innovator of crowdsourcing and GWAP, closes his 2009 article on Human Computation by pondering, “Will somebody find a cure for cancer while playing a game?” Although it is not a metadata generating game, gamers on Foldit, a collaborative online GWAP that gets users to “fold proteins into intricate shapes” for points were able to solve a puzzling “molecular structure of the enzyme of an AIDS-like virus found in rhesus monkeys” in September of this year” (MailOnline, 2010). Games with a purpose can do infinitely amazing things, and curing cancer may well be among them in the years to come.

GWAP Bibliography:

Barrington, Luke, et al. (2009). “User-Centered design of a social game to tag music”, KDD-HCOMP, p. 7-10.

Gligorov, Riste, et al. (2011). “On the role of user-generated metadata in audio visual collections”, K-CAP, p. 145-151.

Ho, Chien-Ju et al. (2009). “KissKissBan: A competitive human computation game for image annotation”, KDD-HCOMP, p. 11-14.

Law, Edith L.M., et al.(2007). “Tagatune: A game for music and sound annotation”, Austrian Computer Society (OCG).

Little, Greg, et al. (2009). “TurKit: Tools for Iterative Tasks on Mechanical Turk”, KDD-HCOMP, p. 29-30.

MailOnline. (2011). “Gamers solve puzzle which stumped scientists for years and could hold key to curing AIDS”. Retrieved November 16, 2011 from

Siorpaes, Katharina. (2008). “Games with a purpose for the semantic web”, IEEE Computer Society, p. 50-60.

von Ahn, Luis. (2006). “Games with a purpose”, Invisible Computing, p. 92-94.

von Ahn, Luis. (2009). “Human Computation”, DAC, p. 418-419.

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2 Responses to Games With A Purpose (GWAP)

  1. Guest8 says:

    I love GWAPs. I’ve found this one: It’s a game about art history 🙂

    • awickes says:

      Thanks for pointing this out–I’ll pass it along to some of my art librarian friends! They’re such a neat tool to use. At some point I’d really like to create a GWAP for my workplace to crowd source the building for identification of former employees in old photographs.

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