Help improve Transcribe Bentham

By Tim Causer, on 1 October 2012

From today—as part of a project entitled the Consolidated Bentham Papers RepositoryTranscribe Bentham will be  supported for two years by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Scholarly Communications Programme. A significant part of this work will be to make modifications and improvements to the transcription interface, in order to make the transcription process more straightforward for volunteers. The code for the updated Transcription Desk software will, like its first iteration, be made available on an open-source basis for others to re-use and customise to meet their own needs.

Through a survey carried last year (the results of which will soon be published in Digital Humanities Quarterly), volunteers have already given us a few ideas for alterations which they would like to see made. These include:

  • Changes to the way the markup is added. Responses to the survey indicate that adding of XML tags was a significant issue, and may have dissuaded some from participating. though the Transcription Toolbar was designed to make adding markup as easy as possible, markup was regarded by more than a few respondents as an extra complication when trying to decipher Bentham’s handwriting (which is, after all, the purpose of Transcribe Bentham). One solution is to introduce, as an alternative, a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get interface, so that transcribing will be like typing in a word-processor. In this scenario, the transcription toolbar would be done away with, and transcribers would not have to concern themselves with visible markup at all. Volunteers would—just by way of example, these are not set in stone—indicate a line break simply by hitting return, a paragraph by pressing return twice, and indicate underlinings or deletions by selecting the portion of text, pressing a button, and the underlining/deletion would be rendered while typing. The XML tags would thus remain behind the scenes and would not clutter the transcript.
  • A more flexible image viewer. The current interface, where the image is alongside the text box where the transcript is entered, was also seen as problematic. We will aim to introduce a more flexible image viewer (image box above text box? A floating image window? a resizable image window?). A floating transcription toolbar would also prevent constant scrolling up and down.
  • Distinguishing between locked and fresh material. It is also clear from volunteer responses that we need to make it easier to distinguish between complete and locked, partially transcribed, and untranscribed manuscripts. While we have introduced lists (e.g. the untranscribed manuscript list) and they have their uses, these have to be updated manually and—owing to human error—are not always fully accurate. We will look to introduce some form of automated system to tell the different types of manuscript apart (some form of colour coding?)

Sadly, we can’t do anything about the state of Bentham’s handwriting, and/or composition! Changes which would be made are all about making life easier for transcribers, so this will be very much evolution rather than revolution. Volunteers will be invited to test out any alterations made to the interface.

These are just a few of the ideas we have gleaned from volunteer suggestions, but we are keen to hear more (crowdsourcing inspiration, if you will). We would love to hear from interested onlookers, as well as those who have had hands-on experience with the transcription interface. What alterations would you like to see made to the Transcription Desk, or would you recommend be made? If you are a volunteer transcriber, what changes would be most beneficial to you?

We would like to hear any ideas which you might have. You can leave comments here on the blog, in the Transcription Desk’s discussion forum, or we would be delighted to hear from you via email. Alternatively, you can leave your suggestions anonymously on this survey.

We look forward to hearing from you, and do let us know if you have any questions!