Speeding up a workforce by getting help, ideas, or information from a large audience over the Internet, via a website, or a smartphone sounds a great idea, right? Today, a technique called crowdsourcing, which can divide work into the responsibility of the masses via the Internet has long been used for research in scientific studies. A process called citizen science, where amateurs or professional scientists can participate in research and be a part of knowledge production can now be evaluated within the crowdsourcing method. By making the best use of the potential of citizen science, accelerating scientific research, and creating a dynamic research environment with the participation of countless people by division of labor, both researchers and participants have the power to produce scientific results together. Platforms designed for such public scientific collaboration are in a critical position today to develop scientific studies or projects in the business world. Saving time and money while connecting with people from all over the world with different expertise or ideas and getting opinions from various cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds strengthens knowledge production. The major attractions of this crowdsourcing are taking advantage of citizens’ expertise by communicating with people with skills that the project team does not have and providing this at no cost. It is also possible to use this kind of mass collaboration for alternative funding in the business world. Companies can use this method to increase their capital and generate funds for different projects beyond their limited financial budgets.
The crowdsourcing method, which gathers communities around a common goal, of course, needs a process for moderation to determine the accuracy or usefulness of obtained information. This methodology, which promises to complete work more quickly that would otherwise take years without using this method, certainly needs technical infrastructure. By facilitating both the moderation process and the technical infrastructure, the Zooniverse platform, which allows scientific researchers to design projects using crowdsourcing, has an essential place in this field:
“The Zooniverse is the world’s largest and most popular platform for people-powered research. This research is made possible by volunteers — more than a million people around the world who come together to assist professional researchers. Our goal is to enable research that would not be possible, or practical, otherwise. Zooniverse research results in new discoveries, datasets useful to the wider research community, and many publications.“
In this respect, many historical projects were completed in a short time thanks to the platform used as infrastructure. Indexing or transcription of archival documents, which takes a lot of time, can be completed much faster with the participation of citizen scientists.
Ottoman studies undoubtedly has high potential for studies to be carried out with the crowdsourcing method due to the richness of millions of archives. A project whose infrastructure is still being processed brings crowdsourcing into the agenda of Ottoman studies for the first time. The Ottoman Turkish Crowdsourcing Project, carried out by Süphan Kırmızıaltın (NYU Abu Dabi), aims to index and transcribe archival documents in different categories using the crowdsourcing method. Thanks to crowdsourcing, many types of printed documents or manuscripts in Ottoman Turkish can be evaluated within citizen science, which accelerates the processes necessary for researchers to produce knowledge.
Today, we know that many citizens who can read and write very well in Ottoman Turkish cannot be a part of any scientific activity and only evaluate their abilities as a hobby. The contributions of this audience are significant, especially in terms of Latinizing Ottoman Turkish. As another focal point, the project encourages crowdsourcing in Ottoman studies as a very effective method in language learning in the classroom with a pedagogical aspect. Students can improve their transcription skills thanks to the Zooniverse project infrastructure with a simple, user-friendly interface. Zooniverse provides the moderation infrastructure necessary to obtain the technically correct information. For example, a line of Ottoman Turkish sentences is retired when it reaches several identical transcriptions inputted by the project team. Thus, no information is entered into the database without confirming its accuracy by obtaining the common opinion of more than one person who do not know each other and are unaffected by each other. Important outcomes of such crowdsourcing can be targeted in Ottoman studies. Today, many universities or private education institutions provide Ottoman Turkish education. Universities can contribute to the indexing and transcription of these archive documents, which require different levels of reading skills, by directing students to this platform in undergraduate and graduate course programs. Thus, while improving the students’ reading skills, they are also able to contribute to scientific research.
The more scientific outputs of this project are of interest to researchers. It aims to Latinize many archive documents that have not been previously transcribed and make them more readily available to researchers. This process, moreover, is expected to contribute to the use of advanced HTR (Handwritten Text Recognition) studies, which require more technical infrastructure in Ottoman documents. The quickly crowdsourced documents show great potential for creating a new HTR model for Ottoman Turkish. Of course, such a project has some stages of its process that require careful consideration. In particular, it is necessary to design the relationship between archives and audiences well by identifying good questions that will guide the audience for transcription and indexing. Questions that preclude confusion have the power to affect the outputs of the project. Thanks to Zooniverse, data output in different formats, including code outputs that can be easily manipulated, also strengthens researchers’ analysis and visualization capacity.
The advantages of crowdsourcing for Ottoman studies are not limited to these. Thanks to such projects, any visual or textual material that is missing in a project can be encountered by another researcher now or in the future. Through such discoveries by the public or professionals, projects have the ability to develop databases by accessing the data at hand.
We hope Ottoman studies scholars go beyond individual studies and continue to include these crowdsourcing methods, which blend research with the power of the masses, on their schedule.
Click here for another article on Zooniverse and Ottoman studies by Elif Derin Can on the Digital Ottoman Studies Platform.