Becoming a “Space Archaeologist” in GlobalXplorer

When I was finishing up our readings on spatial history, something from Earley-Spadoni’s article caught my eye.  When the author discusses the use of geospatial technologies for digital storytelling, she briefly mentions a crowdsource platform named GlobalXplorer and asserts that the project is one of the many ways geospatial technologies can “communicate archaeological and historical narratives.”[1] With some time to spare, I decided to create an account and explore the platform. Mainly, I wanted to see how the project incentivized the public to participate and how it communicated “archaeological and historical” narratives to the public.[2]

Just in case you need a refresher, GlobalXplorer is a project created by archaeologist and TED prize winner Sarah Parcak. Partnering with DigitalGlobe, a satellite-image provider, users analyze various photos for signs of archaeological features, looting or human encroachment. While users know what country they are examining, locational coordinates were removed from all images in order to prevent the platform from becoming a tool for thieves. [2]

Global Xplorer in Action


After completing a training module, I was given the title “space archeologist” and allowed to examine photographs of archaeological dig sites in Peru. Overall, the user interface is simple and easy to navigate. In the “looting section,” users are presented with a cropped satellite image and asked whether there is evidence of looting pits. According to the training video, every photograph is analyzed by numerous users before a final verdict is determined. The experience is fun in a sort of a detective way, but I wish the website allowed you to zoom in on the images. As the training video points out, trees, rocks and bushes can look like holes depending on the sunlight in the photo. Even though the resolution on the zoomed-in image would be poor, it may help you tell the difference between nature and a potential plunderer.

The region where GlobalXplorer users analyze photographs. Source:

After examining 120 photographs, I decided to check out how GlobalXplorer incentivizes users. The platform offers community and individual rewards and utilizes “gamification” logic to hook people.  Individuals who examine 1000 photographs of looting pits are able to “rank up” and begin to look for examples of human encroachment on archeological sites. Similarly, if a user analyzes 250 encroachment photographs, they are allowed to look at photographs for unknown archeological sites. Concurrently, as you rank up, you unlock bonuses such as live stream events with the GlobalXplorer team, weekly Reddit “Ask Me Anything” invites and the potential to win a video chat with Parcak.  Moreover, as more photographs were examined, national geographic articles, videos and images were unlocked, giving users insight into Peru’s rich history.


The only major disappointment of my experience is that I joined too late. The platform’s first “Expedition” had officially finished some time ago, so all the community unlocks had been obtained.  (According to their Facebook account, a new expedition in India will begin sometime in the near future.)  Regardless, I think GlobalXplorer incentivization perks are well thought out.  Many of the high-level rewards involve one on one communication with the team, following Rose Holley’s tip of treating ‘super’ volunteers with respect and listening to what they have to say.[3] Allowing the volunteer’s to ‘unlock’ the history of Peru by participating is a nice touch and could be easily applied to almost any history-themed crowdsourcing project. If done correctly, the content could hook a user to seek out additional information on the project’s topic. In the case of GlobalXplorer, their focus on the visual spectacle of ancient sites, relics and buildings works well to intrigue users who have little knowledge of Peru’s history. (like me!) Additionally, the accompanying text is engaging and avoids the scientific jargon seen in academic archaeological publications.  If I were to make one suggestion, I would argue that there needs to be a global leaderboard to reward high ranking achievers. When I worked on the Confederation Debates project, it was very inspiring to see my name climb the leaderboards. As Holley writes, “Putting in a ranking table is easy and costs nothing, yet it makes a big difference to your volunteers and helps to motivate them.”[4]

While my time with GlobalXplorer was brief, I enjoyed seeing what the site had to offer. Looking back at Holley’s article, exploring the platform helped demonstrate how to implement many of her crowdsourcing tips. Gamification strategies such as individual and group unlocks for participating are excellent motivations enhancers and help create the virtual community element many crowdsourcing projects strive for. Anyone wanting to create their own crowdsourcing project should begin by examining projects like GlobalXplorer for inspiration on incentivization strategies.


[1] Tiffany Earley-Spadoni, “Spatial History, deep mapping and digital storytelling: archaeology’s future imagined through an engagement with the Digital Humanities,” Journal of Archaeological Science, 84 (2017): 102.

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

[4] Rose Holley, “Crowdsourcing: How and Why Should Libraries Do It?” D-Lib Magazine,, accessed October 21, 2019.

[5] Ibid.

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