I found out about GB100.org from Twitter, and went across to have a look. Well, more than just a look: I ended up spending the evening adding entries for my locality. It gets to be surprisingly addictive when the places you are logging are ones that you know.
The aim of the GB100 project (a collaboration between Portsmouth University’s ‘Vision of Britain‘ project and a number of Welsh and Scottish institutions – no English ones, I notice, and the map scans actually come from the National Library of Scotland) is to crowd-source the transcription of place names and other features from the OS 6″ to a mile maps of around 1900. This will provide an early-modern resource to complement the OS 50K Gazetteer (which is being withdrawn anyway), and will offer an order of magnitude more detail. The results will be available under a Creative Commons Zero (CC0 1.0 Universal) licence.
After a simple signing-on procedure, you are let loose on a map of England, Wales and Scotland which overlays (if you zoom in and look carefully) a modern OpenStreetMap. You can choose to start wherever you like (though there is an option to find your current location on the map). You can either ‘tag’ names yourself, or verify names that have already been tagged by someone else. Once a name has been entered the same way twice, it is marked as ‘done’. You get a simple dialogue to enter the name:
Where’s the feedback?
My first, and main, gripe is that this looks suspiciously like yet another crowd-sourcing site which steals your work and hides it away. Yes, you see pins appearing on the map where a name has been transcribed, but you never see the transcribed data (or any memories or alternative names, where these have been recorded). They say the transcribers’ work will be released under CC Zero, but … when? And how?
This strikes me as a massive missed opportunity. Why isn’t there a live list of the most frequently entered names? Or a search facility, with the results being displayed on a map view? If transcribers could see the results of their work appearing in real time, they might be more inclined to continue transcribing.
As well as place names, there are physical features like fords and building types such as smithies. If these were searchable, it might encourage the recording of what might otherwise look like trivial details, given the daunting scale of the overall project.
Quite apart from wanting feedback as a transcriber, I want access to the data as a user of historical data. I want it now, and I want it as Linked Data.
Only one chance
Once an entry has been entered and confirmed, it can’t be accessed or updated. This means that if someone did have an alternative name for a place, or an interesting story about it, they won’t be able to add this if the name has already been entered. This is surely a design fault.
More help; more precision?
I assume that the coordinates that are recorded when we click on the first letter of a name will be recorded as part of the data to be released. However, that doesn’t necessarily help with locating the actual feature which the name describes. Couldn’t there be a feature where you can indicate (by a directional arrow or by more clicking) the centre or end-points of the feature described by the name?
In a similar spirit, names on these maps describe entities of different types and at different levels. An option to indicate the type or level of name would potentially add considerable value.
Common features such as footpaths (F.P.) crop up with such regularity that there must be a case for providing a key to them. I’m assuming, for example, that ‘W’ means ‘well’, but I could be wrong.
Providing more feedback and usable data from the start would, I think, vastly improve the prospects of this useful and ambitious project.