A Finnish company called Microtask has struck upon a novel way to use crowdsourcing to complete extremely dull tasks. It's a simple concept and brilliantly executed: They take something that needs to be digitized—the archives of the National Library of Finland, to use an actual example—and break the scanned documents up into millions of little bits. Then those bits are seeded within a game called Mole Bridge, where players read the bits—which are just images of individual words—and type what they say into a window, thus creating data. Each word they type helps them build a bridge in the game, and the data flows back to Microtask, who puts it all back together into a cohesive document. Redundancy is built in to weed out errors.
So far their National Library archives project is working like gangbusters:
Volunteers from around the world have completed over 2 million individual tasks, totaling 100,000 minutes, or 1,700 hours of work in just one month. The games are a great way to keep volunteers interested, says Ville Miettinen, CEO of Microtask.
Games are one way to go about this, and here's another idea: The company that should really be looking to partner up with Microtask is Captcha. You know how you have to type in a random, gobbledygook "Captcha" word when posting a Craigslist ad, blog comment or similar to prove that you're human? What if that word was an actual word from an actual document that needed to be digitized? Thousands of people are already doing this every day.Below is video of how the Microtask process works, grossly simplified and using insurance documents as an example. Presumably they obscure and separate certain parts to maintain personal privacy.