What I Can Do with Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is to invite the general public to help complete a project such as transcription of papers or correction of OCR texts. War Department Papers 1784-1800 and Trove of the national library of Australia are two of very successful crowdsourcing projects. I am a user as well as a contributor of these two projects.

War Department Papers 1784-1800 is transcription project. It asks the public help to transcribe the papers of American War Department to make the content easier to read, search and circulate. As a user, I find this crowdsourcing project is beneficial to both history professionals and non-professionals. Once made easier to read, the papers can attract wider public interest and save people’s time reading obscure handwriting. It’s more likely to make people enjoying reading original sources of history. As a contributor, the website of War Department Papers is very user-friendly. There is no difficulty or confusion when you try to help and transcribe the manuscripts. You can tick “mark as complete” when it is fully transcribed. Or you can view revision history to decide what you can do to the manuscript. To adapt to different contributors, the website gives the option to make the two boxes of original text and your transcription side by side or topdown. These small details of user-friendliness make the transcribing very pleasant experience.

The Newspaper Collection in the Trove of the national library company is a success among correction projects. It invites people to correct the OCR texts generated from the original newspapers. It sparked great public interest because the data shows the numbers of both users and the texts they corrected soared. The interface is easy to use. And it offers more options than War Department papers  such as comments, tags, download and categorization.  A user can tailor the newspaper articles to their need. It is also very easy to edit the OCR text. You can either click the pencil sign at the end of each line or click the editing text button on the top of the whole text. The original newspaper article sits side by side with OCR text and is highlighted in its own box. In the OCR text box, each line is relatively short so it is very easy to spot the errors in the sentence. Combining my interest in the articles, the correction process is fun to me.

The crowdsourcing projects build the communities which brings the people who have the same interest together. It makes history reach wider public by engaging the public in the project and such engagement changes the stereotype that history is a far, dry and professional-only domain. By inviting the public to the project and seeing their great contributions, the librarians and archivists have better understanding of the archives as well as gain lighter workload by outsourcing what could have been done by themselves. So, crowdsourcing is a fantastic way to energize public interest and participation in history projects, build communities for people who share the same interest, and better the public service of libraries and archives.

To attract more people to participate in crowdsourcing, I have a few pieces of thought. First, the interface should be easy to use. Like War Department papers, a contributor can just start their work by clicking the link. Second, the website should make it easy for other users to contribute if one piece of transcription is done. In War Department Papers, once I complete the transcribing, I have the option to mark it as “complete”. So when another user reads the list of manuscripts, he/she can look for another piece. This saves his or her time to browse and look for the untranscribed. Third, I think the crowdsourcing websites should increase a “share” button so that users can share their work on social media.  This can promote the projects and attract more people to participate. Fourth, like Wikipedia, the websites should make a place where people can communicate with each other instead of reading revision history and working alone. This can not only improve the quality of crowdsourcing but also help build the communities where people of similar interest can get together. Users can also use this place to talk with librarians and archivists. In short, the easier the website is to use, the more likely it can attract wider public.

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