Modern Software Experience

2011-11-03

Amsterdam Archive Sites

  1. Dutch Militia Registers
VeleHanden logo

public crowd-sourcing

Vele Handen

Today the Gemeente Archief Amsterdam (Municipal Archive Amsterdam) officially introduces two websites. One is Militieregisters.nl, the other is VeleHanden.nl.

VeleHanden.nl Home Page

VeleHanden is a crowd-sourcing site. The name Vele Handen comes from the Dutch saying Vele handen maken licht werk; Many hands make light work.

militia registers

The site's official introduction is today, but it has been operating for some months already. The first project that the volunteers are tackling is indexing the Dutch militia registers. VeleHanden is merely the crowdsourcing site, it is were you can go to index scans, it does not present the results. The results can be found on other sites. The indexed militia registers can be found on the new militieregisters.nl site.

budget-conscious

The home page design of Vele Handen site is dominated by a promotional clip of about one minute. I took a minute to watch that clip, and wish I had not done so; I almost fell asleep from boredom. That's not really a bad thing; I'd rather see the archive produce an uninspiring clip for a great website, than waste taxpayer's money on a great promo clip for a site created with the remainder of their budget.

In fact, the Municipal Archive Amsterdam is to be commended for being budget-conscious. Crowdsourcing a budget-conscious way to get indexing done, but documents need to be digitised first. Participating archives have to pay a commercial digitisation company to have their documents scanned before these documented can be offered for indexing on the VeleHanden site. The Municipal Archive Amsterdam has used the combined bargaining power of the participating archives to negotiate a low price per scanned page.

Speaking of budgets, the Municipal Archive Amsterdam is taking a remarkable modern approach to finding their second scanning project, the Overgenomen Delen (Copied Parts); these are Amsterdam family cards from before 1921 that were removed from the active system, and copied into a historical register. The Municipal Archive Amsterdam is not just crowd-sourcing the index for the militia registers, but is also crowd-funding the € 30.000 needed to scan and crowd-index the Overgenomen Delen.

registration

The Indexeeroefening (indexing exercise) button leads to a four-step explanation of how indexing works. To start indexing, you first need to register for an account. When you register for an account, you have to agree to gebruikersvoorwaarden (Terms of Service). I did not notice anything remarkable in the conditions, but it may be good to point out that the website, although an initiative of the Municipal Archive Amsterdam, is actually owned by Pictura B.V., a commercial company, and that your agreement is not with any of the participating archives, but with that company.

Registration went smoothly, except that the confirmation email gave me another password to log in with than the one I had registered with. After logging in, I changed the password back to the one I had chosen myself. I was surprised to notice that Picture immediately published my birthdate, gender and home town for all the world to see. There are no options to choose what to display and what not, so I decided to change my birthday instead. That is not an ideal solution. VeleHanden should provide users with a bit of control over who gets to see what.

Portable Network Graphics

I tried to upload a profile image, but it was rejected. Apparently, Pictura has not heard about Portable Network Graphics (PNG), the only official bitmap standard for the web, yet. It literally told me that the *.png extension is invalid. The site does accept JPEG images. It is just a profile picture, but I shudder every time I see some archival organisation a lossy image format anywhere, and actively rejecting lossless images to demand a lossy images instead is plain wrong. After uploading a picture in JPEG format, I was able to see that VeleHanden displays profile images of 200 x 200 pixels, and resizes images that are smaller or larger than that.

VeleHanden.nl Home Page

quality indexing

Even before the official introduction of the VeleHanden site today, the site had close to 250 registered users already. The home page statistics show that while the site was still in beta these past months, these volunteers processed some 38 thousand scans already. Several individual have indexed thousands of scans.
The home page statistics do not only show that the site is already up and running, they also tell you something that the 4-page introduction to indexing did not; VeleHanden performs crowdsourcing the way it should be done. There are three number for the militia registers project: the total number of scans to be done, the number of scans that has been done by two indexers, and the number of scans that has been verified. There's no quick & dirty indexing here, but careful construction of a quality index; all scans are indexed by two independent indexers and then checked for differences. First, the computer determines whether the results are identical. If they are identical, the check is done. If two indexers provided different results, the scan and indexing results are provided to a third person for a decision.

Some fifty thousand scans are available on VeleHanden right now, but that is only the beginning. Once finished, militieregisters.nl should document most Dutch adult males that lived between 1811 and 1940. I briefly spoke with Cees Groenendijk of GMS, the company that is making the scans. He told me that they are scanning some ten thousand documents per week, and expects to make about a million scans in total for just this project.

rewards

Volunteers that choose to index scans on VeleHanden get the satisfaction of knowing that they contribute to archive access, but that is not all they get. You get points for submitting a completely indexed scan. You get more points if the quality check determines that you indexed the scan correctly. Once in while, all indexers are entered into a sweepstakes for bonus points.
Naturally, the indexing point earned at VeleHanden can be exchanged for scan unit at other sites. For example, militieregisters offers one scan unit for every 25 indexing points. However, participating organisations might also decide to offer free entrance, a cup of coffee or other benefits in exchange for the indexing points. Indexing one scan for the militia project earned me one point.

VeleHanden.nl Home Page

fully operational

The VeleHanden site is fully operational. There are help pages, detailed instructions for entering scans and there is a forum to ask questions. I did not encounter any problems indexing scans for the militia project. The indexing page defaults to entering data on the left, while displaying the scan on the right. You can scroll and zoom that scan, and the site responds instantly. You can use the icon above the scan to switch the layout from a left-right partition to a top-bottom partition.

VeleHanden.nl scan comment

A small but important feature is the ability to leave comments. The screenshot below shows that feature in action. I came across a scan that lists a rather long place name and province. I entered the birth place in the place name field, and could no longer see what I was typing. I then left a comment about the place name and province.

VeleHanden.nl scan comment

VeleHanden isn't religious crowd-sourcing or commercial crowd-sourcing, it is public crowdsourcing.

public crowdsourcing

One thing that's particularly appealing about indexing for VeleHanden is that you are not working for either a religious or a commercial organisation. You are indexing for the archives that own the records. VeleHanden isn't religious crowd-sourcing or commercial crowd-sourcing, it is public crowdsourcing.
The site is run by a commercial organsation, but that organisation does not own the resulting indexes. The ownership of the resulting index lies with the owner of the records. That is how it should be.

Digitisation and indexing of Dutch genealogical records was progressing nicely already, but VeleHanden is sure to give it a boost.

indexing boost

The militieregisters.nl site isn't just the first VeleHanden indexing project, it is the very reason the VeleHanden project got started. The Municipal Archive Amsterdam decided that they wanted to crowdsource the indexing of the register, and then decided that they should build a national crowd-sourcing site to make it happen.
The militia registers project already involves sixteen archives, and is sure to involve more archives as the project progresses. The participating archives are enthusiastic about VeleHanden, so more projects are sure to follow. Digitisation and indexing of Dutch genealogical records was progressing nicely already, but VeleHanden is sure to give it a boost.

updates

2011-12-16: USA 1940 Census

The 1940 Census will be indexed through the 1940 US Census Community Project, run in collaboration between Archives.com, FamilySearch and FindMyPast.

2011-12-21: Leiden records

One of the next projects will be linking the already existing transcriptions and scans for the baptisation, marriage and burial records of Leiden to each other.

2012-06-04: Leiden Missing Links project

The Leiden Missing Links project has started.

links