Digitalkoot: crowdsourcing Finnish Cultural Heritage

February 8th, 2011 by

microtask_digitalkootMany years ago, before the Industrial Revolution, specialization and Justin Bieber changed human existence forever, jobs requiring many hands brought communities together.

In Finland, building a house was once such a job. The collective effort was called a talkoot (in English the closest translation we have is “working-bee” or “barn-raising”).

Even if you are not Amish, I’m sure you have experienced something like it when moving to a new apartment. Your friends come over, you tell them about your serious back pain, they lift your washing machine and grand piano down the winding stairs. At the end of the day, when your back doesn’t seem to hurt too much anymore, you offer them cold pizza and the solemn vow to be there for them when they next move.

2011: the year Finnish culture went electric
With all this in mind, we are proud to introduce Digitalkoot: the first public Microtask-powered service. We are running it in collaboration with the National Library of Finland.

The library is currently scanning and indexing its enormous archives, in order to make them searchable over the Internet and easily accessible for everyone. So far so good. The problem is that the optical character recognition software (OCR) used to input the text occasionally makes mistakes. These mistakes significantly affect the ability to search and use the archives, so must be corrected. This might seem simple enough, until you consider that the mistakes must be corrected by humans, and the National Library has four million pages of archives.

This is where Microtask comes in. Instead of spending millions of euros and many years trying to correct these mistakes using library employees, the idea is to use a voluntary crowdsourced workforce. Now the great part: rather than asking the crowd to spend time tediously reading through text that may not interest them, all they need to do is play social computer games.

For those of you have been paying attention to our blog over the last few months, you will recall us talking about using gaming mechanisms to make repetitive tasks more fun (click here or here for the posts). Today we are proud to say that the talking is over (well, not over, but we have some action for you). Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, today we bring you Mole Bridge and Mole Hunt, two brand new games with the vintage flavor of gaming classics such as Lemmings and Whac-A-Mole.

Your country needs YOU
Behind the games is a simple recognition mechanism: the player is shown the original image of a word that the OCR software has had a problem with. The volunteer then has a few seconds to either type the word in or check its accuracy. Starting with system-wide score leaderboards (making Facebook challenges available soonish), Digitalkoot’s goal is to get players and their networks hooked to the cause of culture digitalization.

Harri Holopainen, Microtask’s Managing Director, is excited about the scope and implications of the project:

“The Internet will change the way people work. Instead of going to work, work will come to you. We decided to start with something simple, yet meaningful: type a few words to digitize your culture for later generations.”

With its enormous archives, the National Library of Finland can promise volunteers millions of good excuses to play computer games while at work. Could anyone seriously complain when what you are really doing is saving a country’s cultural heritage?

We will start with 19th century copies of the newspaper Aamulehti (The Morning Paper) and proceed towards the complete digitalization of the Finnish cultural heritage.

Start saving moles (and Finnish culture) here!