Thursday, 14 July 2011

Crowdsourcing with retirees

Retirees, old people, the people you swear at in supermarkets when they can't use the self scanning terminals properly. Well they're not all like that and we will all be old (or dead) one day.

Retirees of course have often had professional careers and have significant, if slightly out of date, expertise. They also often happy to undertake volunteer work, as often they have time to spare. Spot the number of weekday volunteer staff in any museum or art gallery if you have any doubts about this.

Now one of the major problems in digitising museum collections is not photographing and recording the objects, but transcribing the accompanying labels, some of which may have been written over a hundred years ago (and despite what people say, people in the early 1900's or earlier were just as prone to crappy writing) in difficult faded handwriting. Pre computer age retirees, say those who were 45+ in 1990 are of course expert in reading crappy cursive as it was an important lifeskill in deciphering handwritten memos, doctor's scripts, court transcriptions and the rest. They also, quite often, have significant professional expertise in record keeping - in the days before extensive computerisation it was part of their job.

Of course the other advantage in harnessing those retirees who are between 65 and 75 now is that while they learned their skills before computers became widespread in their professions, they are young enough to have had to have used a computer in one form or another in the latter part of their career.

It would be an interesting project to engage people of this ilk in a digitisation and transcription process and then to compare the transcription accuracy with other projects not using retirees to do the transcription.

I suspect that you would find the retirees to be more accurate, if perhaps sometimes a little slower on transcription ...

1 comment:

dgm said...

Greg Crane (Tufts) tells me that this already happens in papyrology with whole squads of retired classics teachers working on transcriptions ...