Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Smithsonian is Crowdsourcing their Research

We can do lots of stuff electronically in today’s world that wasn’t possible as short as a decade ago. We can obtain graduate degrees, complete our grocery shopping, and pay our bills without having to leave our chairs. Why not help a museum convert material? The Smithsonian announced they are trying to go digital giving people greater ability to research, explore, and contribute to the institution. They hope that by using crowdsourcing they can digitize their archives at a faster and cheaper rate than traditional methods

According to Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough, "For years, the vast resources of the Smithsonian were powered by the pen; they can now be powered by the pixel (1)".  He further elaborated, “We are thrilled to invite the public to be our partners in the creation of knowledge to help open our resources for professional and casual researchers to make new discoveries (2)”. 

 Volunteers can simply sign up on their website and then transcribe documents for review and editing to help people understand the world in which they live. The process is expected to save both time and money by the use of volunteers. For many it is the first time they are able to contribute to a famous institute like the Smithsonian.  Who wouldn’t be interested?

Because many of the documents are handwritten letters or documents, software is having a hard time understanding and transcribing the materials accurately. Therefore, people who have the ability to understand the writing, its context, and the style are encouraged to be part of the solution.  It takes on a community volunteer effort with big cost saving ideas.

The process is not without controls to ensure accuracy. All letters and documents transcribed are double reviewed by another volunteer and eventually certified by an expert. This process helps put multiple check points in place for review to ensure that major mistakes are not found or make their way into the final database.  

The use of hundreds and thousands of brains to complete complex tasks is a great adaptation to the Internet. In today’s global world people from anywhere can become helpful contributors to national problems and issues.  People can select what interests them like the bumble bee, artists, or other genres that will keep them focused and excited.  Experts and history buffs are likely to love the new found hobby contributing from the comfort of their home. 

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