Field Notes Challenge Part 3: New Year’s Digital Resolutions

“Resolution” is a word with many meanings. It can refer to the granularity of a digital image, or the solution to a problem, or a firm decision to do or not do something.  The Carefree Cogitation Coalition here at So You Think You Can Digitize has been thinking all about resolutions as we enter the new year. We left 2011 with some exciting developments and new challenges related to making digitized and transcribed field notes openly available.  We have resolved some of the issues mentioned in our last post, and are now resolved to tackle perhaps the biggest challenge yet: to find a flexible way to annotate these notes.

First, to recap BRIEFLY:
1) We decided to use Wikisource as a platform for providing scans of CU Museum founder Junius Henderson’s field notes along with transcriptions.
2) The first notebook scans and transcriptions are now available.  Wikisource’s navigation can be less than intuitive, so here’s the index page, which lists all the pages of the Field Notebook along with metadata.  Next, click the “Notebook 1” link on the upper right hand side of the screen to get to the contents page for that notebook.  You’ll see a Table of Contents here and, as you scroll down, the full transcription, with page numbers listed along the left border of the page.   Click on any of these page numbers (for example, Page 5) and you will go to a page displaying the scanned image of the Henderson notebook and transcription.  This page is editable according to Wiki rules.
3) We’d originally resolved to only spend 5 hours a piece TOTAL on this project.  Yeah, consider that resolution broken.  Maybe 5 hours a piece… per week?

Figure 1.  Page 5 of Henderson’s field notebook as shown on Wikisource

So far, most of our work has been focused on figuring out how to get Wikisource to represent these notes in a way that’s consistent with existing Wikisource standards and policy, while also serving our needs as field-note data-miners.  We think we’ve done this pretty well; Gaurav Vaidya has put a ton of work into developing templates for taxon annotations.  You see those little items in boxes up there in Figure 1? Gaurav’s template (which has it’s own Wikisource page) automagically creates both a direct hyperlink to the species page as well as the floating boxes that link out to Wikispecies and the Wikimedia Commons.  The mark up itself looks like this:

{{taxon|<taxon-name>|<text-to-appear on transcription>}}.

So “Lark buntings” would become “{{taxon|Calamospiza melanocorys|Lark buntings}}.”

Pretty simple!  Our next steps are similarly simple.  We (read: Gaurav) will create annotation templates for “Dates” and “Locations,” and then start marking them up in the text.  Andrea has been linking together resources (uBio’s FindIt, Europeana’s Geoparser,  and her own rudimentary code) to automate this markup, so that the future notebooks we upload will be pre-loaded with links (we’ll talk about this more in our next post).  Locations, at least, will also be inter-wiki linked so interested readers can learn about the places Henderson visited during his journeys.  As soon as we have the templates for location and date done, we’ll post the syntax here and you can just jump in and try.  We’d love the help!

So now we have annotated field notes online, readily and freely available to everybody!  Exciting!  But here is the really exciting part: we think we can push these annotations out of the World of Wikipedia and into the larger semantic web.  Our plan is to unlock those annotations from Wikisource and try to represent them as separate Darwin Core observation records; more on what those records look like here.  We… aren’t entirely sure how we’re going to do this yet, but we’ll keep you posted.  We also have some interesting ideas about what to do with these:  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Junius_Henderson.  Maybe you do too.  If you do, please comment.  We live for comments.  Be resolved to let us know what you think, and Happy New Year.

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About Rob

Three "B's" of importance: biodiversity, bikes and bunnies. I get to express these "B's" in neat ways --- I bike to a job at the University of Colorado where I have a split appointment as Curator of Zoology and Associate Professor. Along with caretaking collections, I also have a small zoo at home, filled with two disapproving bunnies.
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4 Responses to Field Notes Challenge Part 3: New Year’s Digital Resolutions

  1. Paul Flemons says:

    Hey Rob and team – your work in this space is progressing nicely – great to see the markup coming along, it will be exciting to see it working. Will you be providing a how to guide for others wanting to put up field notes into Wikisource – I for one would be interested in using it for getting some field notes transcribed.
    Good stuff – love this blog to, keep up the great work. Cheers Paul

    • Rob says:

      Hey Paul, you read our minds re: a how-to guide! That is on a short list of top priorities for the next couple days. And as always thanks for the kind words and great comments. You might notice we have other annotation templates up and running; more on that on a forthcoming (soon) posting.

  2. One thing I’ve been thinking about for both this and my own software is the idea of de-coupling the indexing from the transcription entry. The taxon markup is hard–frankly, any wikilinking can be hard–and it seems like if there’s an API for editing MediaWiki pages you could come up with a JavaScript widget that would allow users to tag taxons without editing the page, so that under the hood the taxon mark-up would get added. This means you might be able to integrate a look-up in a taxon DB with the client, which would save on typos and duplications.

  3. Pingback: Field Notes Challenge Part 4: Help, ‘Cause We Need Somebod(ies) | So You Think You Can Digitize

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