Project Update – what’s next for Transcribe Bentham?
By Louise Seaward, on 1 December 2017
As we come towards the end of another year, I’ve got my thinking cap on. I have been considering ways in which we can improve the Transcribe Bentham Transcription Desk, following the thought-provoking results of our recent user survey and impressive activity of participants at the Bentham Hackathon. I have also been reading about the experiences of other crowdsourcing projects and looking at the functionalities and layout of websites like Shakespeare’s World, the Smithsonian Transcription Centre, Survey of London: Histories of Whitechapel. Armed with this information, I am working on a plan to upgrade elements of our site to ensure that it remains fun and interesting for users to interact with. I would welcome any feedback on these ideas in the comments to this post or by email. I will also be contacting our most active users to ask if there are any glaring omissions from my blueprint!
There are lots of technical improvements we would like to make to the Transcription Desk – from the installation of a ‘next page’ button so that users can easily move from transcribing one manuscript page to the next to making it possible for users to download images and transcripts from the site. A lack of resources means that significant technical changes are not possible right now but we are hopeful that we will be able to make some enhancements in 2018. This will involve updating the site with the latest version of Mediawiki, improving our spam filters and making it easier for us to upload new material for volunteers to transcribe.
The current guidelines for volunteer transcribers were laid out by Bentham Project researchers in 2010. Although they have been updated slightly over the years, they are due an overhaul. The key elements of the instructions will remain unchanged but I would like to clarify information that is currently a little ambiguous. I’m thinking of new guidance on how to transcribe tables, pencil markings, printed text and unusual symbols – is there anything else I’m forgetting?
Help for new transcribers
Improved transcription guidelines will be particularly important for new transcribers who join our initiative. I am considering how I can welcome and help new volunteers, many of whom may be overwhelmed by Bentham’s complex handwriting and intricate ideas. This question of supporting new users really came out in the Bentham Hackathon, where one team worked on a ‘sandbox’ area where users could consult simplified instructions, practice on a handful of easy manuscripts and gain more immediate feedback on their efforts.
Our most active users already know how to transcribe Bentham’s writings and they like using our site in its current form (at least, that’s what they tell me!). But I hope that a few changes could help to make Transcribe Bentham a more enjoyable place to be. Some of our users may be interested in signing up to a Transcribe Bentham email newsletter to receive the latest news about the project, or participating in a user forum or group where they can discuss transcription with others. I think we can do more to showcase the work of the transcribers; making sure they understand how they are credited for the work they undertake and highlighting the interesting topics that they have been transcribing. I also hope that more discussion of the subjects that Bentham Project researchers are working on (and would like transcribed) will be motivating for volunteers.
That all looks like more than enough to be getting on with! New and existing volunteers will be able to transcribe as they always have but I am hopeful that these small changes will improve their experience and help us to sustain Transcribe Bentham into the future.