Finland's national library Microtasks

Monday 21st March 2011
Finland's National Library Courtesy:

Europe’s first national e-program Digitalkoot (Digital Volunteers), launched by the National Library of Finland and Microtask, has broken the 25,000 visitors only after one month of launching. Digital volunteers from around the world have completed over 2m individual tasks, totalling 100,000 minutes, or 1,700 hours, of work.

Digitalkoot is an e-program for the digitisation of Finland's historical documents and material. First of its kind in Europe, the program harnesses 'crowdsourcing' power to mobilise people to help digitise millions of pages of archive material.

Online volunteers complete small portions of work, or microtasks, to help correctly digitise historical content. Realised as two online games, the program combines entertainment and volunteer work.

During the first month, the voluntary work and online gaming was equally appealing to both genders. Majority of the volunteers are between 25 and 44 years of age and most  come from Finland, but the program has shown its global appeal; with volunteers from the USA, Sweden and Great Britain participating as well.

The e-program technology provider is Microtask, whose automated platform splits dull repetitive tasks into tiny microtasks and distributes them over the internet.  Once carried out by interested microworkers around Finland or around the world, Microtask puts the results back together into a completed assignment.

In the first phase, The National Library of Finland’s e-program consists of two online games. The online gaming experience provides both entertainment and the opportunity to contribute to the preservation of Finland’s cultural heritage.

“There is a constant flow of material into our national archives, so we have a constant need for digitisation. Everyone is welcome and everyone’s contribution is important, whether they work five minutes or five hours. I am proud that even such a small nation as Finland is able to launch something like this,” says Microtask MD Harri Holopainen.

“With Microtask technology, repetitive work can be split into smaller components and allocated to numerous people. In the Digitalkoot program, we help turn routine work into fun, almost a parlor game.”

The National Library of Finland has millions and millions of pages of historically and culturally valuable magazines, newspapers and journals online. The challenge is that optical character recognition often contains errors and omissions, which hamper searches.

Manual correction is needed to weed out these mistakes so that the texts become machine readable, enabling scholars and archivists to search the material for the information they need.

The National Library of Finland aims to enhance the visibility, accessibility and usability of the Library’s unique collections. Digital collections facilitate the use of cultural heritage materials in virtual environments. To date, 4m pages of different types of texts from the 18th to 20th centuries have been digitised, but there still remains a huge bulk of cultural heritage archived only in paper files.

The e-program enables anyone to contribute converting portions of Finnish cultural heritage into a lasting format. The aim is to crowdsource thousands of volunteers to participate online utilising modern technology developed in Finland.

In the first phase, the e-program consists of two online games. In ‘Mole Hunt’ (Myyräjahti), the player is shown two different words, and they must determine as quickly as possible if they are the same. This uncovers erroneous words in archived material.

In ‘Mole Bridge’ (Myyräsilta), players have to spell the words that appear on the screen correctly. Correct answers help moles build a bridge across a river. In the next phase, the Digitalkoot e-program will expand to target also more serious history buffs.

The National Library of Finland is the oldest and largest scholarly library in Finland as well as one of the largest independent institutes at the University of Helsinki. It is responsible for the collection, description, preservation and accessibility of Finland’s printed national heritage and the unique collections under its care.

Microtask was founded in 2009 by four experienced serial entrepreneurs, funded by Sunstone Capital and strategic private investors.

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