Crowdsourcing Project

I played around with a few different crowdsourcing projects but spent the biggest dedicated chunk of time on the Picturing Michigan’s Past project. Their mission is to digitize and make searchable their collection of real-picture postcards to make available for the public.

A screenshot of what the beginning of the classification process can look like.

As mentioned, this project is working with photograph postcards. They range from mid-19th to mid-20th century, picturing daily life in Michigan.

It was quite interesting to see how they went about tagging and organizing things! Once you transcribe the title of the card, as long as there is one, you then move onto dating and identifying what is pictured. The tagging system they have for identification has 24 categories. Within some of those categories are subcategories, for example, under portraits, it asks if it is of a single person, a group, school, team, club, or other. They have a very specific subcategory of Disaster for frozen ships, which I find very entertaining, because of course a state on the Great Lakes is going to have that.

This was an image I tagged for farm animals and bodies of water.

I thought it was fun! Reading some of the titles was hard when the text was white and on a faded or overexposed photograph, but other than that it was pretty easy. I definitely got distracted a few times while working on it, just kind of getting lost in the process of it all.

I’m not sure that I’m ready to admit to myself that this could be a fun hobby for me to pick up. I bet putting on a podcast and working on one of these projects would make for a very entertaining afternoon or evening. I’m sure that says something about what type of person I am.

This is one of those activities that is just mindless enough to be relaxing (I’m not sure that that is the word I’m looking for, but c’est la vie) and also keeps up enough variation to sustain my interest. Looking through these postcards has been really fun, while I don’t necessarily collect postcards, I do collect antique portraits, so going through these feels like when I’m digging through an antique store’s collection of photographs, getting to see snapshots of peoples’ lives. Which makes me wonder: how did the William L. Clements library end up with all these photographs? Were some kept because of their historical significance, or was it mostly by-chance acquisition?

Knowing now that there are projects like this out there to be contributed to, it really gives a sense of how large of a community digital history can reach. Especially looking through some of the other projects that were linked, some of which were at 97% completion. It really illustrates how versatile the internet is as a resource, projects like this wouldn’t be feasible without volunteer efforts. Incredible what can get done with many dedicated people. To me, these projects also show a reflection of the goodness of people; they are willing to help on projects that don’t personally benefit them, projects that may have nothing to do with them at all, people like helping.

Since I’m also interested in art history, I was looking through what they had listed under art, one of which was Saint George on a Bike, which is aiming to get detailed descriptions of artworks so that they can be made available online and also help further train a caption generator.






One response to “Crowdsourcing Project”

  1. Annika Rickbeil Avatar
    Annika Rickbeil

    I actually spent most of my time working on the St. George on a Bike project! It was similar to the classification process of this project, without the use of provided categories. It was an interesting project to work on since the artworks spanned such a large amount of time. I have to agree with you that working on crowdsourcing projects has potential to be a mindless and relaxing activity–under the right circumstances.

    Was there a specific postcard that you categorized that was your favorite? Or one that caught your eye over the others?

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