PhD Candidacy

USEUM and I, a few weeks ago we upgraded! That means that my PhD project (USEUM) and the research associated with it, passed the upgrade phase, which makes me now a Doctorate Candidate at UCL! It required amongst other things, a lot of writing and a 50′ examination-like presentation (see photo).  In a nutshell, the essence of the “Case for Upgrade” is for the academic institution to see whether your PhD is worth continuing. For full-time PhD students the upgrade takes place 1 year after they started, however since I am part-time I had to do my upgrade only a couple of months ago i.e. 2 years since I started. The research I have done so far for my PhD focuses on crowdsourcing; its origins and how it has been utilised in various projects, focusing on those ones that deal with the accessibility of art.


Studying crowdsourcing proved challenging, mainly because I was frequently coming across contradicting literature. For example, although the phenomenon has been out there for years, 1 prominent definition for it, has yet to emerge. The paper Towards an Integrated Crowdsourcing Definition by Estellés-Arolas and González-Ladrón-de-Guevara brought to life 40 (!) original definitions for crowdsourcing. Thankfully it was not the first time I was doing research on a phenomenon that lacks a definition widely accepted by the academic community; that was no other than games! I have covered the (large) debate around what a game is, in my MFA Thesis.

However if there is one reason I enjoy doing research in leading edge subjects is for the very fact that the literature is very young – and yes there may be contradicting bibliography and little given data that you can rely on, but the way I see it and how I have experienced it firsthand, is that my work achieves bigger impact. I was impressed to see one day, that a document on Augmented Reality (AR) I had published online, which I would consider of minor importance, had reached thousands of views, without me promoting it whatsoever. Why? Because there is not much out there for AR despite its high demand.

In my mind, this is quite similar to what is happening nowadays in tech entrepreneurship: it may be a tough environment to be in, but it offers countless opportunities. In this booming industry it is indeed harder for a project to stand out, because of the global competition and as a friend told me the other day on the subject “For people your age it is much harder to make your first million, than it was for us back then (i.e. 90’s)“. But on the other hand, because the industry is growing so fast, everyday there are more and more opportunities to take advantage of. As Larry Page puts it in an interview he gave to Wired “there are all these opportunities to make people’s lives better. Tech companies are attacking 1 percent of them. That leaves 99 percent virgin territory”. So it is always a give and take.

The abstract of my PhD has come to be the following:

Crowdsourcing refers to the process during which a task is outsourced to the crowd, whilst augmented reality is the technology that superimposes computer-generated imagery on a user’s view of the real world, so that it appears to the user that virtual and real objects co-exist in space. Despite the wealth of literature and practice around both of these phenomena, there is only a limited number of research projects involving both of them. USEUM is one of these projects, utilising crowdsourcing and augmented reality in an attempt to make art more accessible, not only on the digital domain, but also in the physical space by taking advantage of mobile augmented reality. USEUM as a platform ( is defined as The World’s Museum of Art, featuring today nearly 10,000 artworks by hundreds of artists from 90+ countries worldwide.

In terms of juggling a part-time PhD and a start-up venture it is tricky at times but it is certainly possible. As of now at least, so far so good.


It’s been more than a year now that I have been running USEUM LTD the company built around; by definition the first social network for art built upon the concept of crowd-sourcing. It started off from my PhD in the broader field of new media for cultural heritage and I was lucky enough to have an open-minded supervisor in regards to the practical aspect of the PhD. So when the question came “Foteini, what do you want your PhD to be on? And beware, you will get very sick of it, so make sure it is something you are really fond of” I did some talking and then some more with one of my life-long mentors and now co-founder, my sister. And then the answer was “USEUM!”.

USEUM Black Logo

Being encouraged to transform my PhD into a start-up by my supervisor and having some experience on start-ups myself, I took advantage of UCL’s centre for entrepreneurship and of England’s simplified legislation regarding new companies and decided to found USEUM and properly register it at Companies House. Then, in February ‘12, so many things came back-to-back from the win at the Athens Startup Weekend 2012 to the largest presentation I’ve given to date to 100+ attendees at Telloglion Institute of Arts in Thessaloniki to the numerous Greek publicationssupporting our vision. The most important event of all of course will probably be considered the funding we got, which helped us the last few months develop USEUM to the platform of 5,786 artworks by 484 artists from 76 countries that it is today.

A big challenge is how I personally see USEUM, as the statement “I could have done so much, if I only had some money for my company” is no longer there for me. I was lucky enough to have a co-founder gifted in fundraising, some great investors, who believe in USEUM and to be surrounded by a great team of people, who are all, as Guy Kawasaki wisely insists, better than me. Thankfully today, several months after this moment of “No excuses for you anymore” occurred to me, I am optimistic, as all these months since the funding, I have experienced firsthand, step by step the development of a concrete company and of an even more concrete platform; but! Only time will tell.

USEUM is very much still at its infancy given that we are working very hard to launch in the summer a core aspect of the platform i.e. the “USEUM Shop”, the gift shop where all artists can seamlessly design and sell merchandise items; right after it we are planning to launch USEUM’s iOS app, whilst some major visual improvements are underway in a parallel trajectory… There are so many interesting things from USEUM to come that I, a pessimist deep-inside by nature, am almost excited. 🙂