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Digitising Finnish history using crowdsourced volunteers


Once upon a time, gathering historical information meant visiting your local library, museum or university and painstakingly sifting through old records. Today, using the power of the internet, huge amounts of information is available and searchable at the click of a button. More and more data is being made available online by institutions every day, allowing unprecedented access to historical information.

But while it is simple enough for an institution to upload information that is already in digital format, converting hard copies of materials can take a long time, especially when it is old or in poor condition.

Today excellent software exists that allows computers to scan printed text and convert it into digital format. Unfortunately, when the source material is hard to read, this optical character recognition (OCR) software can make lots of mistakes. These mistakes make the material less useful and reliable when it is online, especially when people are using search engines to try to sift through it.

At the moment, such mistakes can only be corrected by people. The human brain is much better than machines at transcribing hard-to-read text. This makes it very expensive for institutions to accurately digitize large archives. If you have many millions of pages of material, hiring full time staff to correct all the errors could cost millions.

This Finnish solution, developed through a partnership between the National Library of Finland and crowdsourcing company Microtask, was to use online volunteers to fix the mistakes. The project is called Digitalkoot, and has so far encouraged more than 100,000 volunteers to donate over 400,000 minutes of time to helping correct OCR errors in the online version of its historical newspaper archive.

Picture: These archives are not what you would call accessible!

About this case study
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Ville Miettinen

Founder & CEO, Microtask



Ville Miettinen wrote this case study for Governance International on 1 September 2012.

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