Using Zooniverse

For our digital tools and methodologies class we were given the assignment of using Zooniverse and I have to say that for an assignment I found it very interesting. Zooniverse consists of collaborative projects that allow you to join in and contribute work in a variety of ways.

I worked on two projects, ‘Emigrant City’ and ‘Old Weather’. I found these two projects very good as you could join in in very different ways. Emigrant city is a project about the bank set up for the Irish immigrant community in New York in 1950. The project focuses mainly on the property records such as bond and mortgage records as well as loan records and other real estate materials. They aim to use crowd-sourcing to create a keyword-searchable archive of sorts to be used by genealogists and for research.



Old Weather has a collection of documents collected from US ships from the mid-19th century. It aims to understand what the weather will do in the future by understanding what it did in the past. These records go a long way to help reach these goals as they were the only records of how the weather behaved back then for the very simple reason that sailors needed to keep track of the weather and storms.


Both these projects uses crowd-sourcing to transcribe documents recovered from the past. This work helps to digitize works from the past so they can be viewed and used all over the world with no damage to the document itself.

The process I undertook

In the Emigrant city project you could contribute in three different ways – mark, transcribe, verify. I really liked how these were separated as I really enjoyed transcribing but didn’t really connect with the marking process which I found a bit boring. One thing I will say is that the marking was made a great deal better by the side notes which acted as a key to the different information pieces we were taking from the document. The colour coding of the transcribed work also went a long way to make it more enjoyable. The project was broken down  very efficiently as you could easily switch from task to task  or skip one if you found it hard or even boring.

The Old Weather project works slightly differently. With Old Weather, I felt as though it was more of a game than a task. You were able to choose a ship to sail on and begin annotating and transcribing their records. Again, I preferred the transcribing over the marking but that may just be me. One thing I did find odd when playing around with this project was that there wasn’t much to transcribe. It may have been my beginners error when using the site but I just couldn’t do much transcribing. (This is the reason I decided to have a look at another project.)


The implications of what I contributed

Although I didn’t do much on these projects (in relation to the size of the projects) I still felt that I was contributing to the bigger picture, especially when I was verifying on the Emigrant City project. This really felt as though it was the final step in the project and that what I had contributed was being locked in and had meaning in a way. It also felt as though the work I had done was worth something even if I only type what I read which was a bit surreal.

For the Emigrant City project, (The project I spent most time on) its aim was to digitize bank records from the 1950’s onward. The work done  will allow anybody from anywhere in the world to look at the documents and see a digitized version of them which makes it simple to view and easier to read. The digitized very can also be easily shared worldwide. This can be a way of Irish people to look back and see what houses and where their ancestors live many years ago when they crossed to see to America.

The implications felt much bigger with the Old Weather project as it will go on to help specialists forecast what changes the weather may make in years to come. This is an interesting thought that I could have contributed to something that will be so big.


What I learned from the experience

I have learned very valuable skills from this project the main one being how to use a crowd-sourcing site and contribute without feeling too pressured by a deadline or team leader. The use of crowd-sourcing is a brilliant idea and using these sites could hopefully one day, allow me to even create a crowd-sourcing site that is usable and not too difficult to work on.

I have also learned how to transcribe which was very easy to do as the sites were engineered brilliantly to allow me easy and almost immediate access to the documents. I also felt I have learned a great deal about the projects and their value. It was interesting to use sites like these to learn about Irish immigrants years ago in New York and about the mortgages and loans they had to take out to live. It would be interesting the see if Emigrant city could link in a way with an ancestry archive to give information on your own family tree and those who branched off to America.

One thing which surprised me to learn was that the past could so greatly effect the future on something as big as the weather. Could people predict climate changes by looking back on a sailors logs ?


How I could use the initiatives in my work 

I feel I could use the crowd sourcing aspects of these projects to help with my work with the LGBT archive project in the immediate future. We could use a transcribing section as the Emigrant City and Old Weather did to digitize old documents from all over the world not only Cork and verify them as Emigrant city did before adding them to the site.

After that I could see a lot of benefits from this for the future but not on any specific projects yet. We will have to see what the future holds.




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