Posts Tagged ‘crowdsourcing’

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They’re Crowdsourcing Papyrus Transcription!

July 28, 2011

One of the hot time-wasting-at-work activities for underemployed and geeky office workers this summer has been the New York Public Library’s What’s on the Menu? project, which asks the public to help transcribe historical restaurant menus from a very large collection.  Menus can’t be reliably transcribed automatically by Optical Character Recognition (OCR), because they tend to use unusual fonts and layouts. In further evidence that there’s a passionate user group out there for nearly any topic, volunteers at the menu transcription project have so far transcribed 475,731 dishes  from 8,821 menus.

What else can’t reliably be transcribed by OCR? Papyri! (Or anything written by hand; for the ancient world this mostly means papyri.)  The Ancient Lives project invites the public to help transcribe items from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, whose excavation is described at some length.  The project has gotten a lot of press, and there has also been discussion on academic list-servs, with some skepticism about whether the public will be willing and/or able to crowdsource ancient Greek handwriting, and some concerns about the ethics of asking the public to contribute to a project while giving nothing in return.

Ancient Lives is hosted by Zooniverse, which describes itself as a “citizen science” website, and hosts multiple crowdsourcing projects, the majority related to astronomy – participants are asked to look at images of space, many from the Hubble telescope, and identify anomalies, classify galaxies by shape, etc.  The site states it has had 445,501 volunteers (a free login is required to participate) and if the testimonials at the site are reflective of this population, the volunteers are largely enthusiastic, and feel they are being rewarded, for example by learning more about astronomy. One keen-eyed amateur astronomer discovered a new phenomenon, now named after her (Hanny’s Vorweerp is the original; they are now a known and soon-to-be-formally-published phenomenon called Vorweerpjes!)

Could Ancient Lives be a teaching tool in the classroom for you?  Could introductory Greek students get practice recognizing Greek letters by transcribing papyri (or would non-standard handwriting confuse them)? Would an assignment to explore the site fit in to a general Greek Civilization class, or a literature class that reads works whose documentation is affected by the finds at Oxyrhynchus (Menander, for example)?  Or might it be a fun way to procrastinate from that syllabus-writing you should be doing this week?

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THATCamp 5: Open-Access, Kindles, Crowdsourcing

March 16, 2011

Okay, if I don’t get more terse we’re never going to get through THATCamp SE.  Day one continued:

At lunch we had “dork shorts” which were timed 3-minute talks on anything anybody wanted to show.  Topics included a documentary about an Atlanta punk band, a blog about rural life which featured a lovely photo of a ca. 1940 man with his pet skunk, and UGA’s <emma> program, used in writing classes, which allows collaborative markup of student papers.

After lunch 1: Open Access Publishing, hosted by me. I was a little thoughtless at 9am and put things on the whiteboard that I thought would make good discussions, forgetting that then I would have to a) attend and b) HOST the discussions.  And people signed up for them!  This was number 1.  It was kind of a general conversation, with several librarians present who had experience hosting open access journals using the Open Journal Systems software (at Duke, GA Tech, and UGA), a grad student who works on the OA journal Southern Spaces at Emory, and a faculty member who edits a major journal that is not open-access.  We talked about business models (Mellon support, departmental support, support by an organization like ATLA), OA in Humanities as opposed to Sciences, and reasons why OA is important (I especially liked the mention of the need to make research accessible to communities being studied, in some fields.)

After lunch 2: My colleague from UGA, Caroline Barratt, and I hosted an intimate conversation about our current project using Kindles for all course readings in an English class.  This was very productive for us – we took a lot of notes about interesting questions to ask when we hold focus groups later this semester – and those present seemed to enjoy it also, with a wide-ranging discussion including practical issues as well as big topics like “what is the book” and “what is reading.”

After lunch 3: Crowdsourcing Digital Humanities Projects; I was hosting again. I was hoping to get advice on how to manage the human side of a project like the Ancient World Open Bibliographies. I was struck by the great diversity of experiences and expertise present at this session.  Participants talked about: a women’s collective project in India, crowdsourcing the transcription of the Cardinal Newman letters at Emory (interestingly, the volunteers were not collected using the internet, but came mostly via newsletters and news articles), open-access software projects, and a project to collaboratively write a latin textbook. We talked about the importance of passion in volunteers (which is why there’s a Wookieepedia) – and how it can’t be artificially created – and, failing passion, the need to “make it fun” or even sneak crowdsourcing into a project (like ReCaptcha).

By this point someone in another session was beginning to tweet about zombies, so the UGA contingent regrouped and headed back to Athens.  I don’t know how anyone had the energy to go out, but  gather some THATCampers continued conversations into the evening.

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