Every now and then I come across a site that reminds of just why I love this sad and beautiful world wide web: a site with that certain intangible
Wikipedia has it. That’s a project that’s not just on the web, it’s of the web. It’s a terrible idea in theory, but an amazing achievement in practice. It restores my faith in humanity.
Kickstarter has it. The word
distruptive is over-used in the world of technology, but I can’t think of a better adjective to describe Kickstarter …except, perhaps, for
empowering. There’s something incredibly satisfying about contributing directly to someone’s creative output.
Old Weather has it. It’s the latest project from the magnificent Zooniverse crew, the people behind the brilliant Galaxy Zoo.
Old Weather is another collaborative project. Everyone who takes part is presented with a scanned-in page from a ship’s logbook from the early 20th Century. The annotations on the pages aren’t machine-readable but the human brain does an amazing job of discerning the meaning in the patterns of markings made with pen on paper (and if you need help, there are video tutorials available).
Converting this data from analogue paper-based databases into a digital database online would in itself be a worthy goal, but in this case, the data is especially valuable:
These transcriptions will contribute to climate model projections and improve a database of weather extremes. Historians will use your work to track past ship movements and the stories of the people on board.
But the value is not just in contributing to a worthy cause; it’s also great fun. It makes excellent use of the cognitive surplus that Clay Shirky talks about.
What a shame that the situation in which we are most often called upon to demonstrate our humanity is through the vile CAPTCHA, a dreadful idea that is ironically dehumanising in its implementation.
I’d much rather have people prove their species credentials with a more rewarding task. Want to leave a comment? First you must calculate the optimum trajectory for a Jupiter flyby, categorise a crater on the moon spot a coronal mass ejection or tell me if you live in fucking Dalston.