Lots of photos of tombstones. I want to crowdsource the transcription. How?
May 9, 2011 8:34 PM   Subscribe

I have lots and lots of photos of tombstones and I want to get the information into a machine-readable format - ideally a spreadsheet. I think I can find volunteers to transcribe them, but I need a way to do it efficiently. Can anyone suggest a way to do this online, perhaps using some sort of blogging or Wiki-like software?
posted by Joe in Australia to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Mechanical Turk?
posted by teatime at 9:05 PM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

It's not so much finding people to do it, as finding a framework that lets us work on it collaboratively. The Mechanical Turk API is really designed for jobs where you're paying people to do it, rather than one where volunteers work on improving each other's answers.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:31 PM on May 9, 2011

The New York Public Library is in the midst of a project for volunteers to transcribe their menu collection. Could you set up something similar?
posted by Judith Butlerian Jihad at 9:36 PM on May 9, 2011

I believe you can set up a Google Spreadsheet to collect data from a web form, so the collection is one-way only. (And you can also share a spreadsheet among multiple editors, if you trust them.)
posted by usonian at 9:37 PM on May 9, 2011

How many is lots and lots? If it's fewer than, say, 500, I would probably just re-name them sequentially, throw them up on some photosharing site, and create a google doc spreadsheet that can be edited by all transcribers with several columns:

Filename / TranscriberName1's Transcriptions / TranscriberName2's Transcriptions

...where I'd have two people review each photo, each filling in the text that they see. (On preview: What Usonian said).
posted by samthemander at 9:39 PM on May 9, 2011

Judith Butlerian Jihad: that software looks as though it might do what I want - I'll email them to see if it's available (I suspect the answer is yes, if you're a wealthy library).

Usonian: OK, so I upload the photos to (say) Picasa and get people to transcribe them in the comments, and then download the comments into a spreadsheet? That would go a long way to solving the problem. I'd prefer people to be able to enter the data into marked fields directly, but unless it had rollback I 'd be scared to distribute a spreadsheet so widely.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:01 PM on May 9, 2011

Oh, and "lots and lots" is presently about 1,500 and the number is growing :-%
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:02 PM on May 9, 2011

If you allow people to directly edit the master version of the data (whether it be a spreadsheet, wiki, or other) then you'd have to trust that they're competent, accurate, and not malicious.

If you're willing to do a bit of legwork & act as a filter between the input and your master data source, then any free web survey form could do the trick - with the bonus that as you transfer the data from the survey form results, you could verify it yourself against the photos. I'd suggest that a double-pass over the data like this would be very useful.

(I assume that the major effort in this work that you are hoping to crowdsource is interpreting what's on the stones from the photographs, and manually typing it in)

The form could have fields such as:
- Photo# (as per photos uploaded to somewhere on the internet)
- Surname
- First given name
- Other given names
- Date of death
- Survived by [names]
- Formerly of [place]
- Age at death
- Miscellaneous text / epitaph

The output from this should be easily manipulable into a spreadsheet that you maintain control over.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:01 AM on May 10, 2011

PS - worth asking: do you expect that the character sets will be standard latin alphabet + numerals? Because if not, then this might change your potential options.

(systems analyst here; I find it always pays to ask these kinds of things)
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:19 AM on May 10, 2011

I would try checking on the forum over at Find A Grave.
posted by firetruckred at 7:44 AM on May 10, 2011

See if Oh No Robot would let you become a member even though you're not a webcomic?
posted by MsMolly at 11:21 AM on May 10, 2011

These were all great answers and they pushed my research in ways I hadn't thought of. I followed Judith Butlerian Jihad's link to NYPL and the folks there kindly pointed me to Scripto, which looks like it's designed to do something very similar to what I want. I think I'll give it a shot.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:24 AM on May 12, 2011

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