The people at Zooniverse have a long track record of creating citizen science projects. These projects harness the power of ordinary internet users looking to make a difference with their spare time.
Their latest creation, Science Gossip, wants users to tag pages from a Victorian Periodical. You are presented with a simple choice, “Are there any illustrations on this page? Yes, No, Skip this page”.
You scroll up and down the page, and tell it yes or no. Simple, right? Well pretty much. However, there are some finer points that are helpful to learn. For example, where is the line between illustration and text? For example, the very first page I saw when writing this contained formulas.
Is this an illustration? Well, let’s click no the little question mark icon and find out. It’s right above and to the right of the image.
I am then taken to a small but helpful help section. There are four example catgories listed – Drawing/Painting/diagram, Chart/table, Photograph or Map. I think I can safely conclude that it does not fit into one of these catgories, so I mark no and move on.
I clicked through a few more that did not have any images. Then, I ran into this winner.
Wohoo! Step aside Darwin, here I come. I then choose the type of illustration – photograph, and I get to draw a rectangle around each one. I type the name of the photographer, give the pic a few keywords and voila! The world is a better place because I did that. At least I hope it is.
The point of the project is pretty straightforward. You are helping historians by classifying the millions of pages that are available to them. Imagine if they wanted to find out more about the dodo bird – where do they start? If you tagged one while using this program, the historian would have quicker access to the information. It is the rough equivalent of converting these paper pages to web pages by giving them the favorable characteristics that come with the internet – they become sortable, searchable and faster than paper.
Read in the Science Gossip blog about Mary Anning, a woman whose discoveries were not all properly attributed to her, some of which are within the Science Gossip project.
Projects such as these give “ordinary” people the chance to contribute in ways that were not possible fifteen years ago. Instead of using your free time binging on old Lost episodes on Netflix, now can be an amateur historian. Better yet, you can do both at the same time.