Crowdsourcing: Make it fun and get it done


Digitalkoot is a crowdsourcing success story. At the Finnish National Library, the team need to find a way to get volunteers to digitise their archive material.

“We have millions and millions of historically and culturally valuable magazines, newspapers and journals online. The challenge is that the optical character recognition often contains errors and omissions, which hamper example searches. Manual correction is needed to weed out these mistakes…” Kai Ekholm – Director of the National Library of Finland

So the task is to transcribe millions of pages of old script from the 19th century, which seems vast and also pretty dull. Making the ‘microtasks’ interesting or fun enough for volunteers to repeatedly participate is a critical part of the challenge. The way they achieved this was to create two cartoon games where you rescue moles by correctly typing in the script.  Kai said they were partly inspired by popular iPhone game Angry Birds. Click here to play, let me know what you think of it.

You might assume that you need to speak Finnish to do this but that’s not the case. I had a go at both games and discovered that you don’t need to understand what the words mean, you just have to retype the letters in front of you. The game is not held back by language barriers as it is made of pictures. There are a few characters that you need to check from the help list but you quickly learn when you see the same ones over again. The homepage also has both a Finnish and English language version of explaining what it is all about.

Each time you complete a game, a score pops up to tell you how many points you scored and how many words you got wrong. This is an incentive for users to come back again to beat their previous score. They also publish the top six players everyday. Launched in February 2011 jointly by Microtask and The National Library of Finland, there have already been more than 25,000 people taking part, with more that 2 million microtasks. The site says users have spent more than 1,845 hours playing the games.

There are so many books and articles that could be fantastic online resources once they have been digitising. I’m sure these kind of projects will grow exponentially over the coming years, particularly when programmes are open and shared. For me the key part of designing the tasks or games is remembering that these volunteers are giving up valuable time to take part. If it’s interesting or fun to do, then half the battle is won. When it isn’t, it will not work.

REBECCA BELL

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One response to “Crowdsourcing: Make it fun and get it done

  1. BBC report on the Digitalkoot as well, better late than never! http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13749897

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