Solving botanical crosswords

Nieuws | de redactie
14 november 2013 | What if transcribing historical data would be as much fun as playing a game of angry birds? Researchers from the Missouri Botanical Garden invent a game to bring order in their huge botanical database.

A team of researchers from Missouri Botanical Garden, New York Botanical Garden, Cornell and Harvard have received a $450.000 federal grant to develop a computer game which leads players to describe millions of obscure words from the collection of the Biodiversity Library.

It’s a big challenge: many historical texts are digitized but the words have never been transcribed, making these collections very difficult to search. Sometimes computer software helps – for instance with the digitization of newspapers – but older material is very difficult to understand for computer software.

Transcription is an awful lot of work

“They’re using words that we don’t even use today,” said principal investigator Trish Rose-Sandler, who works for the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Center for Biodiversity Informatics. As a result a biologist can never be verify whether the rare species she comes across is a ‘new’ one.

Chris Freeland, currently a librarian at Washington University, came up with the idea of gaming for solving this problem. The biodiversity library already helped scientist a lot, by bringing all relevant descriptions together in one place, but searching the database still remains challenging. Freeland calculates that transcribing the whole collection would take one person 1.000 years.

His new idea is to use crowd-sourcing, turning the transcription work into a computer game that anyone could play on a mobile device or computer. Gaming companies are now asked to send in proposals before the end of the year, so that the game can be launched in May 2015.

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