Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bentham Project Revisited

In a blog post last December, I discussed the University College London's Transcribe Bentham Project, an experiment in crowdsourcing whose goal was transcription of the unpublished manuscripts of Jeremy Bentham. All the work was going to be done by volunteers, with their submissions being vetted by paid research associates. Now it looks as if the future of the project is in doubt. According to a post in the Wired Campus blog of the Chronicle of Higher Education, lack of funding is going to cause "scholars to scale back [the] groundbreaking project ..." The government grant that paid for computer programmers, photography, and research associates is coming to an end, and private money needs to be found to keep the project going. The research associates were a vital link between the project and the volunteers, and once they are gone, the links will begin to break down. The director of the project, Philip Schofield, acknowledged that relying on volunteers was risky; some were put off by the difficulty of the undertaking, and bailed out after transcribing one or two documents. Mr. Schofield thinks that "one way to overcome that problem might be to use the crowdsourcing model in an entity like a museum ... which would already have an established community interested in its work."

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