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Project update – presenting the results of our latest user survey

By Louise Seaward, on 31 October 2017

During the summer we conducted an online survey of our super-transcribers; the most active of our volunteers who have contributed around 90% of the finished transcripts on Transcribe Bentham.  We wanted to reach out to this group to get an idea of their motivations, experience and ideas: what keeps them coming back to Transcribe Bentham and is there anything that they would like to change about the site?

Having been invited to give one of the lectures at an international conference on crowdsourcing, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to showcase the huge amount of work done by our volunteers and discuss the results of this survey.

Le Crowdsourcing: pour partager, enrichir et publier des sources patrimoniales at the Université d’Angers brought together crowdsourcing projects from France and elsewhere in Europe to share experiences and discuss best practice.  Have a look at the conference hashtag on Twitter to follow what went on.

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We heard from projects such as Itinera Nova in Leuven where volunteers help to conserve, digitise and transcribe historic registers of local alderman. The local archivist Marika Ceunen revealed that this is a vibrant volunteer community which holds regular meetings and even brews it’s own beer!

Volunteers at the City Archives Leuven

Volunteers at the City Archives Leuven

There were also presentations on new crowdsourcing projects under construction.  The team behind the Testament de Poilus project gave us a sneak-preview of their bespoke interface to transcribe and tag wills written by French soldiers in World War One and Mia Ridge from the British Library described the thinking behind In the Spotlight, the library’s forthcoming project to transcribe over 200,000 printed playbills.  Ridge talked about the sometimes difficult balance between productivity and engagement in the crowdsourcing world –  user enjoyment is crucial for productivity!

Mia Ridge (The British Library) speaking on balancing productivity and engagement in crowdsourcing

Mia Ridge (The British Library)

Transcribe Bentham was represented twice at the conference.  The first presentation was delivered by Anna-Maria Sichani, a former transcription assistant at the Bentham Project who is now working as a researcher at the Huygens Institute in the Netherlands.  Anna-Maria discussed questions of efficiency and productivity in Transcribe Bentham and displayed some impressive statistics to suggest the quality and cost-effectiveness of crowdsourced transcription.  These results are due to be discussed in a forthcoming article by the Transcribe Bentham team.

When it came time to present my paper, I decided to focus on the opportunities and challenges of user support and motivation in Transcribe Bentham.  Crowdsourcing projects are nothing without their loyal and engaged users and so user support is a vital part of sustainability in crowdsourcing.

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I explained how we try to maintain a connection with our volunteers by providing guidance and contact by email, feedback on submitted transcripts and recognition for the work that they undertake.  I also suggested ways in which we could build upon some of the suggested improvements made by the super-transcribers in our recent survey.  These new possibilities include an email newsletter for transcribers, more clarity about which material needs to be transcribed as a priority and the resurrection of a user forum where transcribers can share tips and ask questions.  We also have longer-term plans to make technical enhancements to the site that could make it more efficient and enjoyable for people to use.  Some of these ideas started to be developed at the Bentham Hackathon event that we held recently in association with IBM and we will be working on them further over the coming months.

Thanks go to the Université d’Angers for the opportunity – I enjoyed hearing about a range of crowdsourcing initiatives in France and beyond!