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Crowdsourcing Archival Surveys with Mobile Devices

One of the first questioners after our session was over was Redmond Barnett from the Washington State History Museum. He pointed out that all of the panelists were working on projects in which the material to be transcribed was already collected and digitized, and that not all distributed volunteer projects have that advantage. His project, as I recall, involved sending volunteers into the field to look for material on a particular subject in the state’s libraries, small historical societies, and even in private holdings. Our experiences offered little advice for such an endeavor. This may be true, but not all crowdsourcing projects follow the same model. In particular, I was reminded of a project called Billion Graves.

Billion Graves attempts to catalog the world’s cemeteries and produce a searchable, geo-tagged database of grave markers. Volunteers participate in two ways: either they take photos of headstones, or they help transcribe the information on those photos. The brilliant thing is that the photos are taken and uploaded with a mobile app, which means that they’re geo-tagged and assigned to a cemetery based on the mobile devices GPS and some information already entered by the volunteer when he or she begins a session. These photos are then submitted for transcription and categorization — perhaps by the volunteer who took them, perhaps by a volunteer without a mobile device.

Imagine a similar mobile app for archival surveys which allowed the coordinators to process material photographed and uploaded by volunteers in the field, complete with GPS coordinates, app-entered tags, and perhaps even basic searchable OCR of any printed text within the photos. To my knowledge no such app exists, but there is no technical obstacle in the way of building one.

History in Harmony: Exploring Collaboration

Since Alexandra Eveleigh wasn’t able to join our session in person, here is her video presentation, retitled “History in Harmony: Exploring Collaboration”:

Tell us about your crowdsourcing projects

With less than 24 hours to go before our session, we’d like to hear from prospective attendees about the crowdsourcing projects you’re currently developing– anywhere from the pie-in-the-sky idea stage to fully-implemented projects.

Please share your ideas or links to work in progress below, and use this space to find one another for future collaboration.

Open thread: your questions, and a word about Twitter

If you’re attending our session tomorrow and wish to submit questions during the session, please use the space below to send them in. The session moderator will be monitoring this post during the session and will select questions for discussion by the panelists. (We’ll also take questions in the conventional, face-to-face way.)

If you’re on Twitter, we encourage you to report on the session using hashtags #session138 #AHA2012– both what’s said and your subjective opinions.

AHA Session of the Week

We’re glad to see that the AHA Blog selected Crowdsourcing History as Session of the Week for November 30, 2011. Here’s what they had to say:

At this year’s 126th annual meeting, AHA session 138, Crowdsourcing History: Collaborative Online Transcription and Archives, will feature five-minute “lightning talks” by nine scholar-technologists who are studying and working on crowdsourcing projects. This session is part of the larger “The Future Is Here: Digital Methods in Research and Teaching in History” series of digital history sessions at the upcoming annual meeting.

The age-old wisdom that “many hands make light work” is the core of the recent crowdsourcing phenomenon. Instead of relying on a few individuals to complete a project, crowdsourcing turns to the power of the masses.

For example, the University of Iowa Libraries wanted to transcribe Civil War diaries from a recent collection, to make them easier to read and search online. Transcribing can be an expensive and time-consuming task, so the university turned to volunteers on the Internet, large numbers of people who were willing to transcribe a few pages each. By crowdsourcing the transcription project it was completed more quickly and less expensively than it would if the university’s small staff had been put to the task.

This year’s annual meeting features a lot more digital history content than in previous years, and we’re excited to be participating. We hope to see you in Chicago!

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