The ever-innovative North American Bird Phenology Program has just released the results of their user satisfaction survey. In addition to offering kudos to the NABPP for pleasing its users–who had transcribed 346,786 species observation cards as of November–I’d like to highlight some of the survey results — after all, this is the first user survey for a transcription tool that I’m aware of.
This chart shows answers to the question “What inspires you to volunteer?”:
Users overwhelmingly cite the importance of the program and their love of nature. The importance response obviously speaks to the “save the world” aspect of the NABPP’s mission tracking climate change. But how does a love of nature inspire someone to sit in front of a computer and decipher seventy thousand pieces of old hand-writing? Based on my experience with the NABPP (and indeed with Julia Brumfield’s diaries), I think the answer is simple: transcription is an immersive activity. It is rare that we read more deeply than when we transcribe a text, so the transcriber is transported to a different place and time in the same way as a reader lost in a novel or a player in a good video game.
While the whole survey is worth reading, one other response stood out for me. Answering the open-ended “how can we improve” question, one respondent requested examples of properly transcribed “difficult” cards on the transcription page. I know that I as a tool-maker tend to concentrate on providing users help using the software I develop. However, transcription tools need to provide users with non-technical guidance on paleographic challenges, unusual formatting, and other issues that may be unique to the material being transcribed. I’m not entirely sure how to accomplish this as a developer, other than by facilitating communication among transcribers, editors, and project coordinators.
Let me conclude by offering the NABPP my congratulations on their success and my thanks for their willingness to share these results with the rest of us.