Monday, 7 May 2012

Church archive starts crowdsourcing: help tag sermon podcasts

There are many church and cathedral archives around the world but a particular one that has just caught my eye and held my interest is All Souls Anglican Church at Langham Place, London. This is because of a crowdsourcing project it has started.  It is setting a fine example for other cathedral and church archives to follow. In a blog post last week the church appealed for Christian volunteers to help make the archive more accessible and used.  The church upholds the principles of information access, strongly believing that resources it generates should be free and open to the community. The church puts its current sermons and talks up on its website as podcasts.  However they have a large back archive of sermons: 3,600 to be precise.  As far as I can see these are all available as podcasts.  To increase their usage and make them more findable they want the community to add subject tags to them. There is a webpage explaining how to do this.  

I followed through to see how simple the process would be.  It is pretty simple and easy to do, but there are a couple of surprising things here.  Firstly it is assumed that only one person needs to allocate tags to a sermon and they will put the ‘right’ tags on. Because of this once someone has ‘grabbed’ a series of sermons to tag no-one else can pick them as far as I could see.  This may have been set up like this because they may have thought that not enough people would sign up to help. However even though the call for help only went out last week, there are very few sermon series left that haven’t been grabbed. I think they have under anticipated the interest and enthusiasm of the crowd here.  Personally I think it may be helpful to encourage more than one person to add tags to the same sermon.  The general premise in crowdsourcing is to use the wisdom of the crowd. This is particularly relevant for tagging.  In order to choose tags the sermon or talk needs to be listened to first. This takes about 30 minutes for each one.

The next interesting thing is that the volunteers can pick 3-4 tags from a very small controlled list and then they have a chance to add one tag of their own choosing that is not on the list.  That one tag will be moderated by the archivist (and presumably added to the list if deemed suitable and often used).  This is the first time that I have seen a combination tagging approach. Again I’m not quite sure about the thinking behind this. I would like to know more. This is a very interesting project to me because firstly it is a small controlled experiment into crowdsourcing where it will be very easy to report back to the community on results, levels of activity and lessons learned.  If successful as I am sure it will be, it could easily be replicated in other church archives, or widened for other item types in the church archive.  It is also a demonstration of how to make audio-visual content better searchable, as well as calling on a specific group of the community – Christians. 

I am really interested to hear more about the results and lessons learned from this small experiment.

Photo: I was lost and parked the car to consult the map when I noticed the car in front of me, it gave me a chuckle…

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